THE SAME JOURNALISTS who ignored tens of thousands of non-Indigenous Australians standing in unity with Indigenous Australians, told us on Monday following the referendum to respect the result.
During the campaign I did my best to ignore the Liberal Party astroturf machine Advance and the false media narratives they generate in main stream and digital media. Of course it matters, but complaining about it mid-campaign wouldn’t win. It was wasted energy.
Grassroots and astroturf
Yes23’s national network of hundreds of supporter groups was conceptually similar to Indi’s model of community hubs scattered across the electorate. The Indi brains trust split their community campaigns into local hubs and those groups run their local campaign – a response to a diverse and geographically huge electorate. Their campaigns are agile and responsive to local concerns and issues.
The decisive factor in all successful ‘Voices for’ like community independent campaigns – enough people who care turning up and creating deep roots into their community/communities. With those deep roots comes credibility and trust – once that happens community campaigns can begin to push back strongly against astroturf generated media narratives and social media disinformation.
The community in the seat of Warringah had already tried numerous times to knock off, Tony Abbott and it was no secret they were going to have another crack at the former Prime Minister in 2019. In October 2018, Kerryn Phelps won the Wentworth byelection supercharging the new moves against Abbott.
The Liberal Party astroturf machine, Advance (formerly Advance Australia) formed in 2018 and was billed as a conservative GetUp. Advance was created against the backdrop of the large community campaign ground game in Indi (they’ve been unable to match and beat), the rapidly growing threat of the same in Warringah and a growing threat from climate focussed independent candidates at the 2019 election.
Zali Steggall won Warringah in 2019 and the communities of Mackellar, Kooyong and Wentworth banked the experience of a loss and went on to help wipe out the Liberal Party heartlands at the 2022 election.
Indigenous Australians know non-indigenous politics and media better than non-Indigenous folk, that’s for sure. They chose the only type of campaign that might possibly punch through fake Canberra media narratives and disinformation. They chose the only type of campaign that MIGHT succeed without bipartisan support.
Implied in the Uluru Statement from the Heart – please help us beat the political forces that will be stacked against us, help us win a Voice to Parliament referendum.
With substantive constitutional change and structural reformThe Uluru Statement from the Heart – 2017
We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people
The Yes23 campaign was always going to be run in and by communities – we were told in 2017.
When faced with a growing threat of community political participation, the Liberal Party of Australia decides the answer is astroturf.
An Advance campaign has a media (including digital media) strategy, a mailbox regime, disinformation, mobile and static billboards and stunts and it’s all synchronised with the Liberal narrative of the day.
Advance wouldn’t disclose how many volunteers they had and kept media away from their referendum day “party for volunteers”, they never exist in any substantial manner.
There’s no doubt the Uluru Statement from the Heart was issued with love and hope for a nation building moment led by Australians for Australians. However prominent ‘No’ campaigner Warren Mundine called it a
…symbolic declaration of war against modern AustraliaWarren Mundine
The Yes campaign made mistakes, all campaigns do, but it was an astoundingly brave and principled campaign in the face of an onslaught of racist filth – there’s no other way to put it.
Advance provides the Liberal Party plausible deniability of the tactics they employ.
Regionally, a couple of local far right A Stand in the Park (ASIP) groups were used to display Advance ‘No’ corflutes and distribute their campaign material.
In the images above clipped from a video posted to ASIP Albury’s Facebook page, a table with Advance campaign material is being distributed along with the same unlawful campaign material, ASIP Benalla were distributing until the Australian Electoral Commission intervened.
The unlawful material was spread nationally in what was obviously a well organised national internet distribution (publishing) network. Who initiated it?
The ASIP Benalla group is led by a local self-described far right white nationalist, Bruce Evans and is a “good mate” of, Mark Mack who issued an online video threat against Linda Burney, Helen Haines and attendees of a Yes23 event in July.
There was a large but discrete police presence at the Yes23 event in Wodonga, including officers from the Public Order Response Team (riot squad), a protection detail for the Members of Parliament, police posted at the entrance and what looked like general duties police doing laps of the venue and nearby streets.
Mack is a far right Christofascist, musician and part of “Freedom Party 4.0”, and Judging by his social media and that of other ASIP groups, travels between Melbourne and Sydney attending and performing at their events and protests.
Australians do not like being bullied … … what are they up to, what do they want?
I would encourage no voters to maintain the rage.John Howard August 29, 2023
Mack and other racist far right activists maintained their rage on the streets of our cities and towns and in Indi with the Liberal Advance campaign during prepoll.
When Prime Minister, Albanese visited Wangaratta prepoll, No Fibs was told Mack and a far right contingent kept their distance across the road.
The Liberal Advance campaign forced Yes23 volunteers to share spaces with a man who issued a video threat against them and their Member of Parliament. Intimidation?
At the start of the campaign an elderly Indigenous woman with her zimmer frame was campaigning on the streets of Benalla.
A couple of weeks later a local campaign leader told me she pulled out because racists constantly challenged her Indigeneity and it was “far too distressing”.
I get a bit annoyed about some non-Aboriginal people using the Aboriginal flag to say ‘No’.Local Indigenous elder Aunty Patsy (Bollard)
Both ASIP groups used the Aboriginal flag covered in ‘Vote No’ slogans upsetting and angering local Indigenous people. In September, the ASIP Albury group posted a video of a confrontation with an Aboriginal woman upset by their politically motivated defilement.
The Freedom Party of Victoria is a minor party registered in Victoria. “Freedom Party 4.0” seems to be a reference to ASIP dance parties. Both have created a base willing to tolerate racist far right views by exploiting fringe opposition to lockdowns, vaccines and embracing conspiracy theorists and sovereign citizens.
Perhaps the smiley is best compared to Pepe the Frog – the innocent online cartoon whose meaning changed and darkened after its adoption as a meme by basement-dwelling “alt-right” racists. Cartoonist Matt Furie has made attempts to reclaim the benign spirit of his creation. Maybe the rave cavalry are about to do the same?The Guardian
But apparently there was a black guy marching so it’s all fine. pic.twitter.com/Ibpck9bWWY— Ben Stanley (@BDStanley) November 11, 2021
“It’s okay to be white” is a slogan of rebranded far right white supremacy, the ‘alt-right’, and originated as part of an organised trolling operation on the website 4chan’s discussion board in 2017.
Almost every member of the Coalition, including their Indigenous members, used the reworked slogan of white supremacy and every time they did Australia’s racist far right knew it was a callout to them.
I’ve been told that by speaking out, by amplifying the voices of the victims and the vulnerable, by bringing attention to the rampant abuse and neglect, that I am repeating the words of the oppressor.Jacinta Nampijinpa Price National Press Club
Make no mistake, such so-called truth telling commissions have no desire to tell history in the round. They desire to misrepresent Aboriginal life prior to the arrival of the British as some form of Pasconian paradise. They want to demonise colonial settlement in it’s entirety and nurture a national self-loathing about the foundations of modern Australian achievement.
There are many box tickers [fake Indigenous Australians] out there that are taking away opportunity from our most needy.
There’s no ongoing negative impacts of colonisation [on Indigenous Australians].Jacinta Nampijinpa Price National Press Club
Calling One Nation.
Back in July I started tweeting the rapidly growing community led campaign Yes23 were building – no media was covering it.
About 7 or 8 #VoteYes campaign groups in #IndiVotes. A short time ago there was none.— jansant (@Jansant) July 22, 2023
There's now 188 #VoteYes campaign groups around Oz (-1 that's in London). A short time ago there was about 5.
As long as people get organised and get out there, #VoiceToParliament wins.
It’s been reported ABC journalist Laura Tingle said:
The ABC has provided unprecedented levels of coverage from around the country of the referendum campaign, particularly from Indigenous voices, and I’m very proud of the work my colleagues have done in the often very stressful circumstances.Laura Tingle
I disagree. ABC and most mainstream media should be ashamed of their cooked referendum reporting.
In Canberra, media covered the Coalition’s manufactured division narrative and when they did venture outside they sought stories that reinforced bubble narratives they helped create in the first place.
Constantly asking Yes23 to speak to blatant ‘No’ campaign lies and racist garbage isn’t campaign reporting. It’s called platforming lies and racism.
Under those circumstances equal time isn’t balance, it’s a media sock puppet show.
ABC news team panellist: I think what we saw was both campaigns crisscrossing the country.— jansant (@Jansant) October 14, 2023
The 50,000 #Yes23 campaign volunteers will be surprised to learn they've been crisscrossing the nation.
I'm telling ya, most journalists have no fucking idea what just happened.#auspol
The Yes23 campaign was the hundreds of mostly self-funded supporter groups made up of tens of thousands of people across Australia standing in unity with Indigenous Australians.
Coalition of the missing
The Benalla for Yes group numbered over 100 volunteers – Advance’s ‘No’ mercenaries in the town numbered a little over half a dozen ratbag racists, antivaxxers, sovereign citizens and conspiracy theorists distributing and displaying unlawful campaign material, defiled Aboriginal flags and campaigning without required council permits.
The first time we saw either Coalition party on-the-ground in Benalla was when, Bridget McKenzie’s office sent a representative to the Saturday markets and ASIP were provided with Advance campaign material – that was the only Coalition appearance until prepoll.
Across my electorate, until prepoll, there was mostly no on-the-ground “No’ campaign unless there was a local far right racist leading a tiny bag of assorted nuts.
I’ve covered a few campaigns in Indi and there’s zero doubt local members of both Coalition parties stood down from the campaign in large numbers – even at prepoll they were thin on the ground.
Advance outsourced their ground campaign to small bands of racist far right extremists, anti-vaxxers, sovereign citizens and conspiracy theorists.
The Liberal Party of Australia are the architects of one of the darkest episodes in modern Australian political history and proved why truth in political advertising laws are urgently required.
It’s also clear to me the AEC is not fit for purpose if it’s to protect our democracy from undisclosed disinformation in the digital age.
I’ve heard (probably) fair criticism that Yes23 left it too late to begin building their community led campaign teams. The flipside, it’s difficult for community campaigns to maintain momentum over extended periods – many volunteers relegate other responsibilities to participate and most can’t do that indefinitely.
I’ve heard more than a few people describe first run community campaigns as building a plane while you’re flying it.
When Albanese announced the date for the referendum, I believed Yes23 needed another two to three weeks to give their campaign the best chance of getting airborne.
During the first week of the last sitting of Parliament before the referendum, an ill-disciplined Labor helped Dutton’s Coalition solidify their division narrative.
Albanese was overseas and the Liberals spent most of that week play-acting angry division for news grabs and it didn’t matter the issues had nothing to do with the referendum.
But, what I was most horrified by was the response of the government benches. They met the Coalition’s angry division with spittle spraying outraged division. Labor gifted the Liberal Advance campaign news grabs of division far more potent than they could’ve possibly imagined.
If the independent Member for North Sydney, Kylea Tink hadn’t put a stop to it, I would’ve called the referendum lost at the end of the week – Labor made Yes23’s job infinitely harder.
I was probably a bit hard on Albanese (on XTwitter) for being away at a critical stage of the campaign – every time I mention it to Margo Kingston, “where was he, Wayne?”. Still, without their leader Labor MPs were an atrocious ill-disciplined rabble who seemed to forget they were fighting a campaign.
During the 2022 campaign, Dai Le who won the safe Labor seat of Fowler went to great lengths to distance herself from ‘Voices for’ like independent candidates. Many people involved in community campaigns were upset by things, Le said.
I wasn’t surprised. Liberal Advance tactics were probably having a greater impact on, Le in Fowler than strong ‘Voices for’ candidates. If Le had allowed a narrative aimed at ‘Voices for’ independents to stick to her independent campaign, it was possibly game over. I probably would’ve done the same.
The Liberals were using less sophisticated versions of Advance’s tactics when I covered my first election in 2013 and I’ve covered many community independent campaigns since.
Defeating Advance a numbers game
Advance is extremely efficient at slowing the growth of and restricting the effectiveness of community campaigns before they reach a critical mass of volunteers, rather than beating them once they do.
There was a swag of ‘climate indies’ at the 2019 election and even more ‘Voices for’ like independents in 2022 – most lost.
When Yes23 had around 35,000 volunteers I did a quick calculation and came up with about 230 volunteers per electorate.
Some supporter groups acted on an electorate basis, others didn’t, the calculation was a crude way to work out probable sets of boots required for ‘Yes’ to succeed.
In 2013 when the Liberal Party were operating against McGowan in a similar fashion to Advance now, she had around 600-700 volunteers and won by the skin of her teeth. In 2022, Dyson in Wannon had 236 volunteers and almost won, but it was an exceptionally well managed effort from the start that also flew under the radar.
In my mind I settled on Yes23 requiring something around 400 to 500 community volunteers per electorate to start pushing back against Advance’s astroturf – I thought that would put them in the hunt – I began posting the Yes23 volunteer link multiple times a day.
Eventually Yes23’s campaign reached around 50,000 volunteers – on referendum day Yes23 reportedly had 80,000 volunteers, which is probably where they needed to be when prepoll opened.
The answer to the Liberal astroturf machine is always more community volunteers – it’s for that reason my bottom line is not enough non-Indigenous Australians walked with Indigenous Australians.
Indigenous Australians threw the nation a Hail Mary and we dropped it.
While Australia was voting ‘No’, another imprisoned Indigenous child was hospitalised after self-harming.
This Friday ABC News reported the child died.
Was it really self-harm?
Related Voice to Parliament reporting
- Facebook fringe group campaigning ‘No’ #Voice breaks electoral law – #IndiVotes
- AFL legend Michael Long says delegation to visit King Charles III seeking support for #Voice ‘Yes’ campaign
- SPEECH: Nova Peris makes powerful case for #Voice
- Participation is the antidote for Advance’s Astroturf
- Gallery: Linda Burney leads tens of thousands on Melbourne #WalkForYes
- Benalla raises its #Voice for ‘Yes’ as ‘No’ goes low
- Fringe group led by ‘far right white nationalist’ says Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie’s office provided official ‘No’ campaign material
- Advance ‘No’ working with far right activist who made online threat against Burney, Haines and attendees of #Yes23 Wodonga event
- Now and Forever in pictures: Senator Briggs brings the show home for #Yes23