Yes campaigners told to accuse No camp of vilifying Aboriginal people

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Trade union campaigners are being instructed to tell Australians the No side is vilifying Aboriginal people in the Voice to parliament referendum campaign, which has sparked another intense political feud over racism allegations.

The opposition has seized on newly unearthed comments from top Voice proponent Marcia Langton – referring to social workers as “by and large … racist” – a day after she rejected the Coalition and media misleadingly construing her criticisms of the No campaign as an attack on individual voters.

Trades hall secretary Luke Hilakari says Yes volunteers have encountered offensive content and that calling out misinformation is important.Credit: The Age

Langton said the views of No leaders Gary Johns, who has said Indigenous people should take blood tests for welfare payments, and David Adler, who accused journalist Stan Grant of artificially darkening his skin, were proof of racism within No’s ranks.

A key strategy of the No campaign – according to Matthew Sheahan, leader of major No outfit Advance – is to portray the Voice as divisive and has used Langton’s comments to further this charge.

Yes campaigners accuse their opponents of sparking the viciousness of the Voice debate. A Victorian Trades Hall Council “key messages” document shows its thousands of volunteers are being told to convince voters that the anti-Voice movement punches down on Indigenous Australians.

“Call out the tactic and who’s behind it: Point to their motivation Creating division (eg by vilifying Aboriginal people); Distracting (eg by insisting on ludicrous detail),” the document states.

The union training sheet tells campaigners to claim the No campaign is driven by a desire to “divide the working class”, “safeguard mining interests” and “sell newspapers with shock”, before recommending a comparison with the same-sex marriage plebiscite.

The union document can be found on the council’s website and was discovered in the same week this masthead reported on No’s instruction of volunteers to instil fear in voters’ minds and not to identify themselves upfront as No campaigners.

Trades hall secretary Luke Hilakari said many Yes volunteers had encountered offensive content and that calling out misinformation and division was important.

“It’s not a mistake from the No campaign, it’s a tactic. Former government ministers have imported these Trumpish tactics that should never have been part of our political discourse,” he said.

Brawling over the referendum reached intense and personal highs during the second last parliamentary question time before referendum day. Treasurer Jim Chalmers accused Opposition Leader Peter Dutton of being the “chief propagandist” in a campaign of lies, as the Coalition backbench hurled interjections at Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney.

Nationals leader David Littleproud was ejected from the house in a question time dominated by questions to Burney on Langton’s statements and others made by Voice campaigner Megan Davis about the prospect of treaty and reparations.

Dutton repeatedly demanded Burney stop reading information from a script and said if she was truthful in response to an answer about the Voice’s scope she would admit the advisory body could touch “every area of public policy”.

Chalmers claimed Dutton’s Voice campaigning was adding “more poison into the well”, an accusation Dutton’s deputy Sussan Ley labelled a “disgusting slur”.

Langton said on ABC’s Radio National on Wednesday morning that there were “of course” people advocating for the No campaign who were not racist, a day after it emerged she had labelled the No case’s arguments racist and stupid.

Responding to the furore over her quotes, she said the No side was trying to “frighten Australians into believing the referendum will result in damage to the Australian social and democratic fabric”.

Media outlets reported on Tuesday a statement made by Langton in July in which she referred to some voters as racist.

“The surge of racist nonsense is confined to a minority of Australians,” she said at a University of Queensland event.

“Ordinary Australians are thinking ‘Yes, of course I am voting for the Voice’, and that would be 48-49 per cent.

“Then there is hard No voters and I am hoping they are about 20 per cent and they are the ones spewing racism.”

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