October 14 and Yes Campaign a referendum on Albanese

What gives a leader success can also be their undoing. Scott Morrison secured the Coalition’s unexpected election victory in 2019 by going solo. He detached himself from his government colleagues, made the campaign all about him and ran on the fact that he wasn’t Bill Shorten.

But in the ensuing three years, Morrison’s weird act got weirder and more off-putting and in 2022, Anthony Albanese got Labor over the line by not being Morrison or Shorten.

If opinion polls are any guide, October 14 cannot come soon enough for the Yes side and Anthony Albanese.

If opinion polls are any guide, October 14 cannot come soon enough for the Yes side and Anthony Albanese.Credit: Dionne Gain

Leaders have always had an outsized role in our politics but since the days of Gough Whitlam’s TV-focused “It’s Time” campaign, the trend has intensified and electoral contests have become increasingly presidential in style and tone. That worked for a while. But lately? Not so much.

If we’re to have a politics based on a star system, the “stars” must have star power that can last beyond a few weeks.

The referendum campaign for a Voice to Parliament has revealed a lot about the leaders of the major parties. Peter Dutton will do and say anything to gain a political advantage, all the way up to sowing doubt about the integrity of the electoral system. His stance on the Voice is incoherent and in keeping with the bad faith he’s shown towards the issue from the start. Dutton humiliated his original Indigenous affairs spokesman Julian Leeser, a known Voice supporter, to the point where he eventually had to resign from the frontbench to avoid the destruction of his political career. This seemed to be of no moment to Dutton.

But Dutton has had the easy job. Australians like voting No, especially when a Labor government has called the referendum. Since Federation, Labor governments have put 25 referendum questions to Australians. Only one, which gave the Commonwealth power over social services, has got up and that was in 1946 by Ben Chifley. A roll call of Labor greats – Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam, John Curtin, Andrew Fisher – suffered nothing but referendum defeats.


Albanese has convinced himself that where those giants had failed, he will succeed. From a standing start. In his second year of office. After conducting an election campaign that even his friends would say was patchy. And how has it gone? Not well.

Throughout the referendum campaign, he has been passive and reactive rather than assertive, speaking in generalities rather than specifics, and relying on a fallback position of encouraging Australians to vote Yes to feel better about the country rather than on practicalities.

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