LET’s assume the Voice really is going to be defeated on 14 October and that tantrums follow – by the usual people in the usual places. Though fun to watch, the petulance won’t be as important as the moral reckoning. That’s why discussion about what Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton should and shouldn’t take from the result has already begun. And it wouldn’t be Australia in the 2020s if glee monitors weren’t already protecting the Right Side of History by cautioning No supporters to avoid triumphalism if they win. Simon Benson, politics editor of The Australian, argued yesterday that both leaders have already been harmed by their respective stances on the referendum. There is no real evidence for this claim. For the convenience of his theme – specifically, the mawkish notion that there will be “no political winners out of this” – Benson concludes (post hoc ergo propter hoc) that a lower approval rating for the Opposition Leader in the latest Newspoll was the price of being an arch-critic. It’s more likely that voters cooled on Mr Dutton a little when they realised the Voice was on track to lose and they didn’t need him anymore.
As though it stood to reason, Paul Kelly declared on The Bolt Report last night that backers of No – especially the Coalition – must not apportion blame or play for political points if the Voice is voted down. Instead, the Opposition should be “constructive.” Bolt agreed, suggesting the LNP could, for example, come up with fresh policies to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged of Aborigines. Kelly’s admonition is sound in two ways: in the sense that an Opposition should always be crafting better solutions anyway; and because the subject matter of the referendum makes raucous partying unbecoming. Indigenous Australians have been led to believe the outcome will be a measure of the esteem in which they’re held by everyone else. This is a cheap lie but statesmanship demands that wounds inflicted by Mr Albanese and friends be salved, not salted.
Even so – and notwithstanding that Kelly has been a critic of the Prime Minister’s pet project from the start – The Australian’s editor-at-large is deluding himself if he really thinks it will be good for our polity to avoid holding the guilty to account. Voicers are extremists who cloaked vengeance in the attire of reconciliation. They didn’t manfully lay siege to democracy at the portcullis; they tried to poison the castle well using legerdemain, calumny, blackmail and – worst of all – the altruism of their compatriots. They are not Byronic heroes who did their best for a sacred cause. Peter Dutton should by all means reach out to, and represent with redoubled vim, the Aboriginal communities around the country that need to be rescued (even from themselves). He should drop absolutely the idea of a bespoke referendum on recognition. The two-faced goodwill lobby in the op-eds he should heed only slightly. It talks about pivots and paradigm shifts after Liberals lose a culture war battle but gentlemanly grace when Labor does. Don’t fall for it.