‘Declaration of war’: Mundine rejects criticism from Yes campaign

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Leading No campaigner in the Voice referendum Nyunggai Warren Mundine has dismissed as ridiculous and racist a claim from Indigenous leaders for Yes that he is a puppet of right-wing think tanks, as Anthony Albanese declares the referendum created a new national awareness of the disadvantage confronting First Nations peoples.

A draft document dated October 20 intended to be the first collective response of Indigenous leaders supporting the Yes campaign was to be released after a week of silence marking the referendum defeat.

A leaked copy of the statement was published by this masthead on Sunday and had been circulated among about 50 Indigenous people and organisations, including those associated with the Yes 23 and Uluru Dialogue campaigns.

Leading No campaigner Warren Mundine, pictured with Liberal senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price.Credit: Dan Peled

The draft statement said the 61 per cent national No vote was “so appalling and mean-spirited as to be utterly unbelievable”. It says the “shameful victory” belongs to right-wing think tanks the Institute of Public Affairs and the Centre for Independent Studies, and the media group News Corporation.

The statement, which is unsigned, has caused division among Indigenous leaders in the Yes camp. Some leaders declined to be part of it, saying it struck the wrong tone or that they disagreed with the points it made. Members of the Yes camp who were approached yesterday declined to comment.

The draft letter says Indigenous leaders Price, Senator Kerrynne Liddle, and Mundine who opposed the Voice to parliament “were just front people for three right-wing organisations”.

“It is an old colonial tactic to use black people to fight black people,” the statement says.

Mundine said he opposed the referendum because it was divisive between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. He said the draft letter “was a continuation of that”.

“So much for reconciliation and uniting the country,” he said. “This is a declaration of war, metaphorically.

“This insulting idea that we’re some sort of puppet is just totally ridiculous.

“Saying that the No campaign had a racist base is just ridiculous.”

Mundine said two-thirds of the population, drawing from a cross-section of society, voted No.

“It’s almost Trumpism, quite frankly, that they’re rejecting the vote of the people and it wasn’t white people alone,” Mundine said.

“I’m not going to claim that they were the majority, but there were quite a few indigenous people who voted No.”

The draft letter says the lack of political bipartisan support was the determining factor in the referendum. It praises Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s “gallantry” in defeat. However, it says the prime minister’s failure to blame No voters for their error is wrong.

“Once the Nationals and Liberals joined the No campaign the full arsenal of racism, ignorance and mean-spiritedness was unleashed and an unprecedented campaign of misinformation and disinformation was employed,” the draft letter says.

Nationals leader David Littleproud, who pre-empted his Coalition colleagues in the Liberals by declaring first that his party supported the No case, said the failed Yes campaign was Albanese’s fault.

“While I appreciate the disappointment by some Indigenous leaders for Yes, this was a democratically determined outcome the country made,” Littleproud said.

“The loss of the referendum lays squarely at the feet of the prime minister. He misread the nation in putting forward a proposition that conflated recognition with more bureaucracy.”

Albanese said he accepted the referendum result and said he was optimistic Australians would find a new path to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

“There is a new national awareness of the need to close the gap. We can’t continue to have an eight-year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians,” he said.

“We need to address issues of education, health, housing and other areas of disadvantage. We need to address the justice issues, which are there for all to see.”

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