The prime minister has shot down calls for taxpayer funds to be used to bankroll ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns for the Indigenous voice referendum.
As Opposition Leader Peter Dutton seeks input into the way the referendum will operate, Anthony Albanese said public funds should be off limits for the campaigns.
“Taxpayers shouldn’t be funding the campaigns of ‘yes’ and ‘no’,” Mr Albanese told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
While Mr Dutton said public funds should be used in line with previous referendums, Liberal senator Simon Birmingham has broken ranks on the issue.
Senator Birmingham said both sides were already well organised and didn’t need further financial assistance.
“I’m not keen to see large licks of taxpayer funding spent on running campaigns,” he told ABC Radio.
“There may need to be some administrative support for the standing up of official ‘yes’ or ‘no’ campaign committees but that’s about as far as I’d want to see anything go.”
The prime minister said he welcomed the stance.
“I welcome anyone who wants to join this journey on the path to reconciliation,” he said.
“This isn’t the opportunity to look for division. This is the opportunity to look for national unity, to embrace the opportunity which is there.”
The government is in talks with the coalition on pamphlets to be mailed to households ahead of the referendum detailing the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ arguments.
The referendum on enshrining an Indigenous voice to parliament is due to be held in the second half of this year.
The prime minister said “it wouldn’t hurt” for the pamphlets to be distributed.
“People are going to put things in letterboxes anyway during a referendum. If people want taxpayers to pay for it, as a judgment call there, fine,” he said.
Senator Birmingham said the pamphlets would be needed in an effort to provide official information to the public.
“It can also set some guardrails for debates in terms of actually what are sensible arguments, what (is) the true case in relation to a referendum proposal, not just things that might fly around in conspiracy theories,” he said.
“(Pamphlets) were always been part of our referenda in the past and (it is) important to maintain that flow of consistent information to Australians in the future.”
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said talks were under way on how the pamphlets would look and what information would be included.
“We want to be constructive and co-operative in the way in which we deal with all parties to make sure the process we put in place for this referendum is as fair as possible,” he told ABC Radio.
Mr Marles said the issue of whether public funding would go towards both sides of the debate was still being negotiated.
Senator Birmingham said he did not want to see the referendum fail and called for the government to supply more information on how the voice would operate to ensure more people could vote for it.
“The absence of detail presents the easiest arguments for the ‘no’ campaign to run against this and I do implore and urge the government, the advisory committee and others to make sure there are detailed answers to questions being asked,” he said.
“The principle of recognition, the principle of consultation … I support that but I don’t want to see a referendum put that fails.”