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'Racist and stupid': How to lose a referendum
This might be the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum’s ‘basket of deplorables’ moment. Hillary Clinton famously applied the slur to half of Donald Trump’s supporters, who she described as "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic."
The gaffe is widely seen as a pivotal moment in the 2016 US presidential election campaign, having the unintended effect of shoring up support for Trump. Clinton later described her comments as a “political gift” to Trump, who went on to defeat Clinton in the election.
Now, lead campaigner for the Voice, Marcia Langton, is reported to have told a public forum in Bunbury, Western Australia, that arguments for the No campaign boil down to “base racism” or “sheer stupidity.”
Langton’s statements, which were first published under the headline, ‘RACIST OR JUST STUPID’ in the Bunbury Herald, have caused a furore Down Under.
From the Bunbury Herald,
“Every time the no cases raise their arguments, if you start pulling it apart you get down to base racism – I’m sorry to say that’s where it lands – or sheer stupidity,” Professor Langton said. “If you look at any reputable fact-checker, every one of them says the No case is substantially false. They are lying to you.”
One wonders Langton if is aware that one of the main ‘reputable fact checkers’ of Voice content, RMIT Fact Lab, was recently discredited for abusing their position to run interference for the Yes campaign. This, along with their lapsed fact checker accreditation, led to the suspension of their partnership with Meta.
In another report, this one from The Australian,
“Professor Langton in Bunbury on Sunday called out No campaign “lies” such as a voice enshrined in the Constitution will lead to treaty and compensation for Aboriginal people.”
That is a bold claim from Langton given that the guiding documents for the Voice explicitly state that, “Any Voice to Parliament should be designed so that it could support and promote a treaty-making process.”
Additionally, Voice architect and campaigner Professor Megan Davis has stated that the Voice is the first step in the process towards Treaty, which will involve reparations. Speaking at a Human Rights Oration in a speech called ‘Towards Treaty’ in 2018, Davis said,
“Uluru was a sequence reform. Voice to the Parliament first, Treaty second… Treaty has always been the primary aspiration… Treaties are about reparations for past injustices, and they are about land, and they are about resources.”
Numerous other Voice campaigners have said the same - which makes sense, given this is what is written in the Uluru Statement from the Heart documentation.
Voters leaning towards No may be too stupid and racist to understand why such explicit statements should be ignored at Langton’s behest.
Australian media rushed to report on the story, with its click-baity headline. Damage control from the Yes campaign similarly rushed to correct the error, with Langton claiming her comments had been ‘misreported’ - she meant that the No campaigners and their arguments are racist and stupid, not No voters.
What does this imply about the considerable majority of Australians who have sided with the No campaign’s racist and stupid arguments? Langton didn’t say.
This is the same Marcia Langton, by the way, who suggested earlier this year that voting No may jeopardise the Welcome To Country, a ritual of cultural deference that, along with the similar but not the same Acknowledgement of Country, precedes most arts shows, conferences, Qantas flights, and even, I am told, routine work meetings with as few as three people present.
At the time, I noted that this was a perfect example of the Yes campaign’s seeming inability to understand where the No campaign was coming from, and to adequately address their concerns. I anticipated such rhetoric from campaigners like Langton would drive up the No vote.
That’s exactly what has happened. Last week, new polling showed a clear loss for the Yes team despite a concerted disinformation campaign to discredit the No campaign.
This week, yet another poll confirms that Yes is steadily losing favour, with only one state (Tasmania) currently tipping for Yes. To win the referendum, the Yes campaign has to secure a majority of votes in a majority of states.
“The survey, conducted for this masthead by Resolve Strategic, shows that 35 per cent of voters support the Voice and 49 per cent oppose it when asked about the government proposal for change, with another 16 per cent undecided.
“The number of voters who say they would “definitely” vote No has increased from 33 to 37 per cent over the past month, while those who say they would “probably” vote No is steady at 12 per cent.”
If the Yes campaign is to have any hope of winning at the referendum next month, the 12 per cent of soft No voters are the ones to convince. They will need to feel respected, heard, and that their concerns are being seriously and comprehensively addressed by the Yes campaign (CC, Marcia Langton).
But, it might be too late. Some gaffes are too big to come back from, as Hillary Clinton can attest.
Watch CNN talking head Bakari Sellers deny that Clinton’s basket of deplorables comment was a gaffe, because half of Trump’s supporters really are racists and bigots:
Update 11:30am 13 September 2023: New video of Langton accusing No voters of "spewing racism” has just emerged
As shared by Sky News this morning, new video of Marcia Langton accusing some No voters, social workers and police of racism has emerged.
The first clip, from a University of Queensland event in July of this year, shows Langton accusing some No voters of “spewing racism”:
“The surge of racist nonense is confined to a minority of Australians. Ordinary Australians are thinking, Yes of course I’m voting for the Voice, and that would be 48, 49 per cent. Then there’s the hard No voters, and I’m hoping that they’re about 20 per cent, and they’re the ones who are spewing the racism.”
Unfortunately for Langton, the hard No vote has since increased to 37 per cent.
In another instance from 2020, Langton calls ‘most social workers’ and police racist:
“Families have been broken apart by social workers, who are by and large, white and racist... We need a radical culture change to stop the police from criminalising more and more people simply because the police are racist, because they get brownie points for rounding people up…”
The video also includes a clip from the Bunbury forum over the weekend at which Langton stated that arguments for the No campaign boil down to “base racism” or “sheer stupidity.”
Langton hit back yesterday at claims that she had called No voters racist, clarifying to The Sydney Morning Herald,
"I’m saying the claims being made by the No case are based in racism and stupidity – and appeal to racism and stupidity. And they are appealing to Australians to frighten them into adopting highly racist and stupid beliefs.”
In other words, No voters are not racist and stupid, they just have racist and stupid beliefs.
Now, the newly surfaced video of Langton directly accusing hard No voters of racism is suggestive that Langton doesn’t see a great deal of distinction between being racist, and holding racist beliefs.
* Correction: The first version of this article conflated Welcome to Country with Acknowledgement of Country. This has been corrected. An explanation on the difference between the two rituals, here.
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