The 400 supporters gathered at the Playford Civic Centre roared their approval throughout the prime minister’s speech and gave him a standing ovation as he implored Australians to vote “in recognition of 65,000 years of history”.
Top No leaders denounced the Voice following Albanese’s announcement, with Coalition Indigenous Affairs spokeswoman Jacinta Nampijinpa Price claiming Albanese consistently ignored Indigenous voices, campaigner Warren Mundine holding Albanese responsible for “horrible bigotry” exposed in the Voice debate, and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton accusing the prime minister of dishonesty and evasion.
“It will be Canberra-based, it will not provide the panacea that the prime minister is promising, and it is without precedent that the prime minister would go to a constitutional referendum without providing the detail to Australians,” Dutton said.
In an interview on A Current Affair, Albanese said he disagreed when asked if a failed referendum would show Australia to be a racist nation. “No, it doesn’t. People will make their own decisions,” Albanese said.
The No side has put its focus on the Voice as an allegedly elitist and out-of-touch concept that Dutton said was taking Albanese’s attention away from the cost of living crisis.
At Wednesday’s event, Malinauskas said South Australia had taken big political leaps in the past, including when it became the first jurisdiction in the world to grant women the vote.
“If our forefathers and mothers can say Yes to universal franchise, if our great-grandparents can say Yes to waves of migration, if our grandparents can say Yes in [the] 1967 [referendum], if our parents can say Yes to land rights, then this generation is capable of saying Yes to an advisory committee,” he said.
After the event, Malinauskas said he was “optimistic but I’m not naive” about the challenge ahead for the Yes campaign, which is lagging in published polls.
To succeed, the referendum must win a majority of the votes in a majority of the states as well as the overall national vote. Just eight of 44 referendums have succeeded since Federation and none have been passed without the support of both major parties.
South Australia, the launch site of the 1967 Indigenous referendum campaign, shapes as a key battleground state alongside Tasmania and NSW.
After the event, senior figures in the Yes campaign, who asked not to be named so they could discuss internal polling, stressed many undecided voters had not yet turned their minds to the vote and said Yes would campaign strongly in Liberal-held marginal seats.
Indigenous leader and AFL executive Tanya Hosch revealed she had part of her lower leg amputated two weeks ago and was released from hospital on Tuesday, just a day before her impassioned speech at the launch.
“I have type two diabetes and I contracted a related disease that I have battled for three years and across six surgeries, trying to avoid the loss of my limb,” she said.
“I’m not without privilege and access to services, but still, the service design let me down. I know that if we already had a permanent Voice in place, there would be people around that table that understand my story, my experience and who could make things better and different for me and for people like me.”
Megan Davis said the advisory body would allow Indigenous Australians to permanently influence policy.
Aboriginal men and women, she said, should not have to move to Canberra to have a say in the laws and policies made about their lives.
“They should not have to be personal friends with bureaucrats or politicians, or have ministers on speed dial,” she said.