Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is facing increasing pressure to answer key questions about the Voice to parliament, as Australians begin to cast their vote in the first referendum since 1999.
The Australian Electoral Commission began the immense and challenging task of remote voting on Monday, with dozens of polling teams set to use a variety of transport methods to reach thousands of Australians across the country over the next few weeks ahead of October 14.
Voting gets underway as support for the Voice plummets, with this week’s Newspoll recording just 36 per cent support for the constitutional change.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton on Tuesday reiterated that the Yes camp was bleeding support because there are no details about what they are voting on, but Mr Albanese said he remains hopeful that the majority of Australians in a majority of states will vote Yes.
Asked to give specifics at his own press conference on Tuesday morning, Mr Albanese could not give clear answers about what the implications were of a “No” vote, what options the government would consider in the event the referendum failed, or why he thought “Yes” was trailing so significantly in the polls.
Mr Dutton said Mr Albanese was treating Australians “like mugs”.
“Australians don’t trust the Prime Minister because when he says that this is just a modest change, when this is the most significant change to our constitution since federation, and he can’t even explain what it’s about,” Mr Dutton said.
“And now they’re chopping and changing as to what the model should be.
“We warned the Prime Minister about this, and I think millions of Australians are shaking their heads at how the Prime Minister could divide the country.”
Asked by a reporter in Adelaide whether the government would consider legislating the Voice if it won a majority of votes but not a majority of states, Mr Albanese did not give a clear answer.
“We have a referendum system in our Constitution where you need a majority support in a majority of states. That’s what we’re campaigning for, that’s what I hope occurs,” he said.
“I sincerely hope that Australian people vote Yes, but we will respect the outcome.”
Asked by another reporter what the implications of a No vote were, Mr Albanese attempted to focus on the positives.
“I’m focused on a Yes vote in the referendum, and I’m hoping that a majority of Australians do vote Yes in this referendum,” he said.
“I’m heartened by the discussions that I’ve had, including here in South Australia.”
On whether he was confident that the Yes campaign had reached everyone it needed to considering voting had now begun, Mr Albanese said he was confident that “Indigenous Australians will overwhelmingly be voting Yes in this referendum”.
“I hope Australians do vote for this,” he said.
Asked why the Yes vote was trailing so significantly in the polls, Mr Albanese pointed blame at the misinformation campaign being run against the Voice.
“It’s very clear what’s before the Australian people. What has occurred during this campaign is a lot of information being put out there – including by some who know what it is not true,” he said.
“This is a positive request from Indigenous Australians. It is a generous request.”
Mr Dutton said support for the Yes had taken such a significant dive because the Prime Minister was “deceiving Australians” and not giving them the information they were clearly craving.
“I believe strongly that this country should do everything we can to defend it to defeat the Voice that would be in our country’s best interests,” Mr Dutton said.
“Let’s be very clear about it, because nobody knows what the Voice is or how it will work. That’s why the Prime Minister has gone from a position of 60 per cent support to 40 per cent support in a matter of months.