Albo’s new battle to keep major promise

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The Voice referendum may still be months away, but the government is already facing a fight to get Australians to the ballot box.

The referendum machinery bill – the piece of legislation which aims to bring voting in a referendum into the 21st century – will return to the house of representatives on Tuesday.

The Coalition won’t support the Bill unless it gets three things – the funding for pamphlets to be sent to voters to inform them about the Voice; the establishment of an individual yes campaign and a no campaign; and equal funding for those two campaigns.

The government will distribute pamphlets, but it won’t budge on injecting equal funding into both “yes” and “no” campaigns.

As a result, Labor will need the Greens and the crossbench to pass the legislation through the senate.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wants the Voice referendum to be held later this year. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy PiperPrime Minister Anthony Albanese wants the Voice referendum to be held later this year. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

But the Greens want provisions in the Bill which improve First Nations enrolment options – including making it possible to enrol on the day, offering more remote polling and making phone voting available.

The Greens also want the donation disclosure threshold lowered and provisions for truth in political advertising, including in the yes/no pamphlets.

The Greens say Labor will likely give way to their amendments because their demands are easier to meet than that of the Coalition’s.

The government has made amendments to its own Bill and is understood to have extended the remote polling period to 19 days and locked in the disclosure threshold at $15,200.

Further amendments could be agreed to when the Bill reaches the senate, with the Coalition ready to engage in the upper house.

The Coalition wants equal funding for both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique AscuiThe Coalition wants equal funding for both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui

A Coalition spokeswoman said the Liberals’ and Nationals’ position hadn’t changed after their joint party room meeting on Tuesday.

“We would hope that we might get some movement from the government on those three issues,” she said.

“Because the Coalition doesn’t want to stand in the way of a referendum; we don’t want to stand in the way of people having their say.”

She said because the legislation was about “referendum machinery” the government should consider its implications for future referendums, such as the one the Albanese government has bookmarked for its potential second term on Australia becoming a republic.

But the Coalition’s demand for equal funding of both campaigns isn’t necessarily a view shared by the leaders of the no camps.

Warren Mundine, leader of the Recognise a Better Way group, told ABC Radio on Tuesday morning that he didn’t necessarily want taxpayer funds for the campaign.

“I’m not greatly concerned about that, but if they are going to give public funding it has to be evenly distributed,” he said.

Warren Mundine isn’t calling for public funding, but said if one side gets it, the other should. Picture: Rohan KellyWarren Mundine isn’t calling for public funding, but said if one side gets it, the other should. Picture: Rohan Kelly

Earlier, shadow special minister of state Jane Hume appeared on the same program, claiming the Coalition believed the campaigns needed public funding to meet technical and financial requirements of the referendum, including around donation disclosures.

“Funding campaigns is not about giving them money for promotional materials or advertising or to actually campaign – it’s to ensure that both sides of the debate can establish themselves and ensure they comply with, for instance, the disclosure regimes and the regulatory regimes that are imposed upon elections so that they can have appropriate cyber security measures in place and that is really important,” Senator Hume said.

“These are a very simple and practical set of steps that put a structure around a referendum process that help our regulators and help our security agencies to manage this referendum.

“A referendum shouldn’t cause disruption and division. We want to make sure that the process is as robust as possible.”

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