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A Voice divided

  • 26 September 2023
How much faith should we put in polls? As any astute political observer knows, polls don’t always get it right. But if we take them at face value, recent numbers suggest a further waning of support for The Voice.  At this point, it seems the Referendum will struggle to pass.

It’s a curious scenario: the ‘Yes’ campaign, arguably propelled and funded by society’s most influential groups, is leading gargantuan marches through city streets all over the country. And if you were to turn on your TV or open a newspaper, you’d think the success of the Voice was all but guaranteed. And yet according to polls, ‘Yes’ is still somehow facing an uphill battle in securing consensus. This differential should give us all pause. 

A friend recently remarked, rather ruefully, ‘you can’t beat the No campaign when it comes to logic,’ he said. ‘To counter the No side, you have to come at voters from a more emotional angle.’ I don’t agree with his assessment that one side is ‘more rational’, but it served as a peculiar testament to the current state of our discourse. Especially since any constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians is not just a feel-good exercise, but a rational step towards a more unified country.

If advocates for the Voice have given up on reasoning with their opponents, it might explain the recent deterioration in the tone of the debate. What started out as a respectful conversation between adults has, in recent weeks, descended into something resembling a half-yelled schoolyard spat between teenagers marked with ad hominem slurs and accusations of misinformation and duplicity. 

And perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising, but it’s far from ideal. Perhaps realising the debate was having the opposite effect on the country than he intended, Anthony Albanese acknowledged the tone of the debate as ‘unfortunate’ and called for respect. ‘I respect every Australian regardless of whether they're going to vote Yes or whether they're going to vote No.’ 

I’m glad he said this. The tenor of the discourse indicates we still don’t quite know what to do with someone who disagrees with us. The habit of seeing those who disagree not just as wrong, but as worthless and defective, is a destructive force that stands in the way of any social progress and unity, argues Arthur C Brooks in Love Your Enemies. According to Brooks, it’s entirely possible to disagree without being disagreeable. He believes that fostering warm-heartedness and respect