Indigenous leader Noel Pearson has urged voters not to use the voice referendum as a proxy battle for the next federal election.
The ‘yes’ campaign advocate’s comments come as the Liberals encourage Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to scrap the October 14 referendum and open talks on a simpler constitutional change.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who is backing the ‘no’ campaign, has flagged a second referendum if this year’s vote fails and the coalition returns to office.
That referendum would make a simple change to the constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, but not enshrine an advisory body.
Campaigning in regional Victoria, Mr Pearson said those advocating an Indigenous voice in the constitution had “bent over backwards” to achieve bipartisanship and give the referendum the best chance of success.
“The federal election is in two years’ time,” he said.
“That’s when you vote for your favourite political party.
“This is about Australia and we ought to focus our eyes on the fact that this is a referendum, not an election, and we can do something positive for the future of our children.”
Mr Pearson said it was about “black and white children” working together.
“I want them to be looking into each other’s eyes and saying, ‘You and I are Australians, we’ve got no fear of each other, we’ve got no sense of alienation from each other, we’re mates’.”
Mr Albanese has taken a personal hit in published polls, but Labor still leads the coalition in two-party terms.
The Liberals are hoping their message about a lack of detail in Labor’s proposed voice, and the offer of a simpler solution, will help the coalition gain ground.
Mr Albanese said a second vote would not give Indigenous people what they asked for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart – constitutional recognition and an enshrined voice.
“They’re already planning the sequel while doing everything they can to sabotage the original,” he told parliament on Monday.
“Their second referendum … won’t be on what Indigenous people have asked for. Just recognition, not a voice.”
Mr Dutton said Australians supported recognition of Indigenous people in the constitution, but not a “Canberra-based voice”.
He said the change proposed by the coalition would attract “70 or 80 per cent” support.
“We’re going to spend about $450 million to pose a question on October 14 that he (Mr Albanese) knows is going to fail,” the Liberal leader told Nine’s Today.
Liberal frontbencher James Paterson said because the referendum writ had not been issued there was still time for Mr Albanese to scrap the vote and “sit down and negotiate with the opposition to reach bipartisan consensus”.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said it was important to remember the original idea did not come from politicians, but Indigenous people themselves.
“Indigenous Australians are not seeking a purely symbolic form of constitutional recognition which would not do anything to turn things around,” he told parliament.