As money is tight, the campaign will not spend big on ads throughout the six-week campaign, instead focusing on the final weeks.
Yes supporters have been unable to run wide-scale ad campaigns, which are crucial to reaching voters who do not follow news or engage in political debate. Promoting a message is more expensive in a referendum, where all votes feed into a national tally, than in an election in which parties focus on swing seats in fewer media markets.
While senior Yes figures believe the referendum is winnable, they admit that at current funding levels, the campaign needs to be near-perfect to win.
Voice backers hope the October 14 referendum date will drive donations in the last six weeks of the campaign.
The Liberal Party has also called for last-minute donations to defeat the referendum in an email dispatched shortly after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the date.
“The result will be close,” it warns. “The Yes campaign are backed by big unions and corporations. We know they will spend many millions on advertising. We need your support to push back and defeat this risky and divisive Voice.”
Dutton has predicted a tight vote, claiming that “the Yes campaign, thanks to the unions and thanks to big business bosses, has somewhere between $50 million and $100 million”.
On Monday, he warned that “people will be bombarded with ads. People will be bullied into voting Yes”.
Leading Yes campaigner Rachel Perkins said on Tuesday that the campaign would not amass $100 million. “I wish we had $100 million … but no, we are running a very targeted campaign. It’s a modest campaign,” she said.
A spokesman for the Australian Electoral Commission said the referendum would cost about $450 million – a similar cost to running a federal election.
The commission also confirmed the government had not and would not be providing any funding for the Yes or No campaigns, after a debate in parliament earlier this year over whether to fund both camps.
It means a large portion of the Yes and No sides’ funding is spent on things such as events.
“The AEC is funded to run the referendum – to provide voting services, employ temporary staff, count the votes and a range of administrative tasks,” the commission spokesman said.
“The financial disclosure scheme that applies for elections has been applied to the referendum. Expenditure over the threshold must be disclosed in the period running from six months prior to the issue of the writ.”
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