Voice to parliament no campaign to push for recognition of migrants as well as Indigenous people

<span>Photograph: REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

The no campaign in this year’s voice referendum will propose a symbolic constitutional recognition of both Indigenous people and migrants, instead of an Indigenous voice to parliament, Warren Mundine has revealed.

Mundine, a leading organiser of the no campaign, said it will run on a slogan of “recognise a better way”, proposing to insert an acknowledgment in the preamble of the constitution, via another referendum.

This approach was previously rejected by multiple rounds of consultation including the 2017 Uluru statement from the heart, which called for a voice to parliament.

With the yes campaign due to launch with a week of grassroots action from 20 February, the no campaign is gaining support from rightwing organisations Advance Australia and the Conservative Political Action Conference Australia for a campaign to launch in late February or early March.

On Sunday Mundine said he was bringing together opposition groups as head of Recognise a Better Way and the president of the Voice No Committee, of which former deputy prime minister John Anderson is also a member.

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Mundine, a Yuin, Bundjalung and Gumbaynggirr man, was the national Labor president but quit the party in 2012, contesting the seat of Gilmore in 2019 for the Liberals.

In a sign the campaign will aim to pit culturally and linguistically diverse voters against the voice, Mundine said “we’re talking with the migrant community as well”.

“It’s about recognition of all the people who have come to Australia, who have been here first and how we built this great country of ours.”

Asked if this would include recognition of migrants in the constitution, Mundine said “migrants and refugees who have come here – recognise their story, about the circumstances of how they’ve come here and their contribution to Australia”.

“People have escaped from some horrific situations overseas, come to Australia and built an incredible life for themselves and their families.”

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (Fecca) supports the Uluru statement from the heart and its call for the establishment of a First Nations voice protected by the constitution.

In 2015 nine culturally and linguistically diverse organisations, including Fecca, joined forces to declare their support for the recognition of Australia’s first peoples in the constitution and have never sought an equivalent constitutional change for multicultural communities.

Mundine rejected the suggestion that adding the migrant experience to the constitution was an attempt to set them against the advancement of First Nations rights.

“No, I see it as bringing people together,” he said.

“I believe that we can and will have another referendum,” he added, citing an earlier attempt by John Howard and Democrats senator Aden Ridgeway to add a preamble in 1999.

“Myself and many other people do want to have recognition in the constitution but we don’t believe [the voice to parliament] is the right way to do it.”

Howard and fellow former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott have both backed recognition through symbolic words rather than a voice to parliament.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has said he supports constitutional recognition but has demanded more details about the voice from the Albanese government.

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Mundine argued that Indigenous Australians need “more than recognition”; they needed the government to tackle “strong social problems” in their communities.

Asked how a preamble would help, Mundine cited the “US constitution’s” rhetorical statement that “all men are created equal”, which the civil rights movement used to demand equal treatment. The statement is, in fact, contained in that country’s declaration of independence from Britain.

The Albanese government is seeking bipartisan support for the voice, inviting Dutton and the shadow Indigenous affairs minister, Julian Leeser, to attend the constitutional working group developing detail for the referendum early in February.

Earlier on Sunday the Nationals leader, David Littleproud, explained that his party opposes the voice because “another layer of bureaucracy will not fix [or] close the gap for Indigenous Australians”.

Littleproud told Sky News that bureaucrats should be sent to Indigenous communities “to come up with solutions to close the gap” rather than “sending Indigenous Australians to Canberra”.