All this shouting has nothing to do with the Voice

Posted on 26 Jul 2023

By Denis Moriarty

Looking at the LNP arguments against the Voice it’s hard to take them seriously. They don’t really qualify as arguments, in fact; they’re just a random collection of boo-words roughly enclosed in a scarecrow. It’s initially quite hard to believe that such vacuous banalities can be having an effect – but the Voice poll numbers are tending down.

A lot of people who initially thought of the Voice favourably are now apparently backing off, which means that it’s important to understand why. It’s not, in the main, racism: racists were always against it, and they haven’t changed their minds recently. It’s worse than that – or more damaging to Australia, at least.

In fact, looking at Opposition leader Peter Dutton’s statements as if they were intended to be arguments is a category error. They’re not aimed at persuading the listener to follow the Liberal position. The Liberals don’t have a position. They’ve very carefully stayed as far away as possible from any idea of what they think should happen – no alternative, no suggestions, no vision of the future.

Denis Moriarty
Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty

Their campaign has in fact made life harder for the next Liberal government, should there be such a thing. A large part of their opposition is an appeal to uncomplicated government-bashing – a call to reject ‘the Canberra Voice’, where ‘Canberra’ stands in for elite and urban and bureaucratic insensitivity. This would be a problem if they got back into the Lodge and were the government in Canberra and wanted to do something, but of course they don’t think they are going to be back in the near term, and they don’t want to do anything anyway.

When they were in government they hadn’t really got anything on their agenda other than meaningless Trumpist talking points that involved them pretending, as a government, to be oppressed and powerless against the advancing hordes of woke culture, and they’ve had even less incentive to do anything constructive since.

More generally, Dutton’s approach is that of the increasingly conspiracy-minded right-wing across the world. They don’t have policies, as such; they swing their support behind anything that annoys their adversaries that morning. Having policies is seen as a weakness, a distraction from the real work of fanning hatred and contempt. Persuading someone by the strength of your arguments is what weaklings do. Real “men” attack.

If the Voice goes down we’ll be left in a toxic pigsty of frustration and negativity, with politicians at all levels shrinking like whipped dogs away from any appeal to idealism on any issue.

Dutton would be quite happy with that. Taken as a tendency, the right doesn’t want the public to adopt their ideas. They want the public to reject everything. Their goal isn’t conviction, it’s cynicism.

The Albanese government is attempting to neutralise these attacks by presenting an image of quiet competence, and in many areas this may be justified. There’s the risk, though, that it’s another category error – that backing away from big ideas might just deflate the enthusiasm that got them elected in the first place.

Labor wants Australians to vote for hope and change and generosity on the Voice, and it would be easier to get that through if the government was talking about hope and change and generosity in any other area of its activities. Its instincts, instead, are cautious, defensive, and suspicious. To a degree, this is understandable; having the Murdoch press ready at any moment to pounce on any movement must be demoralising.

Still, you can’t gather a crowd behind your banner if all it says is KEEP TO THE LEFT. Big things need to be done. Why not try to do them? Roll back the tax cuts and put the money into social housing. Build the transmission infrastructure to support renewable energy. Get a new LED bulb for that bloody light on the hill.

Inspiration involves taking some risk, and without inspiration the government and the country are going to run down into a bog of disillusion that will make conspiracy theory the ground state of politics.

The Labor party is still tormented by the memory of the Whitlam Crash Through or Crash years. When they let that fear guide them, though, they ended up with Mark Latham. Enough said. Vote Yes for a nation we can be proud of that moves all of us forward, not backward.

Denis Moriarty is group managing director of, a social enterprise that helps Australia's 600,000 not-for-profits.

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