Prominent Indigenous voice campaigner and senior Australian of the Year, Professor Tom Calma, has lashed out at politicians for deliberately “peddling misinformation” about the referendum, saying they “should know better, if they’ve got a conscience” than to “mislead” voters.
Calma, a Kungarakan man from the Northern Territory, will address the issue of misinformation about the Indigenous voice to parliament in the annual Reconciliation lecture on Thursday evening in Canberra.
Calma told Guardian Australia he is disappointed at the “ridiculous” statements being made by politicians about the referendum and the voice.
“It’s very disappointing,” he said. “You scratch the surface and realise that what they’re saying, by and large, has no validity. It’s inaccurate, and it’s very sad that politicians should be peddling this rhetoric when they should know better.
“They should know that what they’re saying is not accurate. They should know that the level of detail that they’re calling for is not and should not be expected at this time of a referendum,” he said.
The bill to alter the constitution and enable the Indigenous voice passed federal parliament on Monday 52 votes to 19, confirming the wording of the constitutional change to be put to the Australian people.
The bill passed with the support of Labor, the Greens, some Liberals, David Pocock and the Jacqui Lambie Network. Other Liberals, the Nationals, Thorpe, One Nation and Ralph Babet voted no.
Calma, co-author of a major codesign report for the previous Coalition government on how a voice might operate, said some MPs were deliberately misleading the public.
“It is ultra, ultra frustrating when the politicians make statements like, ‘It could be one person appointed to this to this body’ and ‘It’s an elite Canberra-based body’, when they know very well it’s not, because we’ve briefed them,” he said.
“We briefed the the opposition leader and members of parliament, we’ve talked and talked to them about the report, Professor Langton and I, under the previous government, about how it’s going to be structured, and yet they still mislead the population.
“I think it’s very deliberate,” he said.
The Calma-Langton report recommended the national voice have 24 members, with two from each state, the Northern Territory, ACT and Torres Strait. A further five members would represent remote areas and an additional member would represent Torres Strait Islanders living on the mainland.
Members would serve four-year terms, with half the membership determined every two years.
“It’s ridiculous, to make the sort of statements they make. Totally, totally misleading and very frustrating. And they should know better if they’ve got a conscience,” he said.
The report was the result of 18 months of consultation with 9,478 people and organisations, including 115 community consultations in 67 locations, 2,978 submissions, 1,127 surveys, 124 stakeholder meetings and 13 webinars.
Calma said his Reconciliation Lecture 2023 will discuss the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bodies over the last 50 years and the challenges they’ve faced in trying to get an audience and a meaningful engagement with government and the parliament.