Debate over Indigenous voice in parliament shouldn’t need Shaquille O’Neal’s celebrity endorsement

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Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai, Gunditjmara and DjabWurrung woman, called O’Neal’s intervention “an insult” to Indigenous Australians and the country.

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Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce warned the move was likely to “inspire cynicism” among voters. “Do you sell McDonald’s or do you change the Constitution,” he said.

The Voice is a landmark project for the Prime Minister.

Just four weeks ago, he pleaded for acceptance when addressing the Garma Festival in Arnhem Land. Albanese used the speech to announce the wording of the referendum question the government intends to ask voters during this legislature.

Albanese said Australians from all walks of life, in all parts of the country, of all faiths, backgrounds and traditions could embrace the reform “because it speaks to values ​​we all share and honor – fairness, respect, decency”.

He said the referendum would be an important step in the nation’s healing journey.

“All Australians are fortunate to own this change, to be proud of it, to be counted and heard on the right side of history,” Albanese said.

But it’s hard to see how the moral force of that argument matches a press conference with O’Neal, a foreign sports star who promotes a gaming company.

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The Herald has long supported a constitutionally entrenched voice in parliament, in line with the Heart of Uluru Declaration. It is a transformative idea that can make a practical difference in addressing the huge and pressing issues facing Indigenous Australians.

But changing the Australian Constitution is notoriously difficult. Since 1901, there have been 19 referendums, proposing 44 changes to the Constitution, of which only eight have succeeded in obtaining the green light.

Albanese’s curious appearance with O’Neal was an unnecessary misstep in an important cause. Its political management will have to be more skilful so that the Voice becomes a reality.

Bevan Shields sends out a newsletter to subscribers every week. Sign up to receive his note from the editor.

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