Peter Dutton has accused the Prime Minister of making a “catastrophic mistake” that doomed the Yes case to fail as voters prepare to head to the polls on Saturday.
As the Indigenous Voice referendum campaign enters its final full day, fresh polls suggest the result is already done and dusted.
Mr Dutton, who has led the campaign against the referendum with Liberal Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, said the Prime Minister had ultimately written a “cheque he couldn’t cash”.
“I think the Prime Minister made a catastrophic mistake in not providing the details to Australians,’’ Mr Dutton said.
“He’s instinctively won their hearts because Australians do want better outcomes for Indigenous Australians, but he hasn’t won their minds.
“And that’s the reality for a vast majority of Australians in my judgement, and I hope that people will vote No on the weekend not to reject the proposition of helping or recognising Indigenous Australians — quite the opposite.
“But people roundly have rejected the Voice proposal and the Prime Minister wrote a cheque that he couldn’t cash.”
Asked what should be done next, Mr Dutton said a full audit of spending was required.
“I think there needs to be a very close look at where the money is being spent within communities,’’ he said.
“There’s a lot of angst within Indigenous communities, as you go around the country speaking to women, to families. They’re concerned about where money is being spent.
“There’s goodwill on both sides of politics in this regard to the amount of money that’s tipped into the top of the funnel in Canberra.
“But when you get to Alice Springs and you see the conditions that people are living in the lack of support that’s provided there. The money’s going somewhere and it’s not to those who are most in need.”
The Liberal leader said it was “unfair” that a lot of younger Indigenous people in particular have had their expectations lifted.
“They’ve heard there’s racism involved in people’s decisions,’’ he told ABC radio.
“But the fact is that four or five out of ten Labor voters are predicted to vote No. And when you get that sort of outcome, you know that it’s a rejection, not of people not having a burning desire to do good for Indigenous Australians.
“It’s a rejection of the model put forward unwisely by the Prime Minister and the campaign conducted in such a way that he’s been able to turn 65 per cent support which was the initial reaction into something much less than that.”
Senior Liberals have campaigned for a Yes vote including Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull — confirming the issue has split conservatives.
Speaking on ABC radio, former Liberal frontbencher Ken Wyatt accused Mr Dutton of “fear mongering” over the proposal and said he had never bothered to have a serious discussion with him about it.
Meanwhile, Yes campaigner Noel Pearson has conceded the Voice to parliament referendum is headed for defeat.
The Australian Financial Review reports today that in a candid speech to a private function on Monday evening, the Cape York leader called prominent No campaigners Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Warren Mundine the “front people” of right-wing think tanks.
“It appears that nothing we can do will shift the numbers,’’ Mr Pearson said.
Mr Pearson said Australia was “a hard country” and that “the faith I implored them to place in white Australia was misplaced”.
“They [Australians] see the Constitution as entirely belonging to them and no amount of obsequiousness on our part, humility, love, seems to ever melt their hearts,” he said.
“If you were me, and you represented a minority who were the original peoples of the land, would you have been satisfied with a Voice to the bloody parliament?’’ he said.
“The thing that completely confounds me is how resistant the vote is out there for us,” Mr Pearson added.
Mr Pearson also criticised the media and accused The Australian newspaper for turning public opinion against the Voice and said he regretted trying to woo the media.
“I’ve grazed a lot of knee skin in that process,” he said.
He also complained about the Yes campaign’s inability to counter negative media coverage.
“We are strangely acquiescent to this.,” he said. We are hesitant to even think about a response, let alone doing anything about it.”