Former ABC anchor Kerry O’Brien has slammed Australia as a ‘racist country’ and heavily criticised the media and politicians, as he promoted a Yes vote for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Kerry O’Brien, best known for the 15 years he spent hosting the ABC’s 7.30 Report and anchoring its election coverage, on Wednesday evening joined ABC journalist Stan Grant on stage for a City of Sydney event, described as the ‘official launch of our campaign to support the Voice’.

The six-time Walkley winner – who published the Voice to Parliament Handbook with Voice architect Thomas Mayo – told a crowd of about 1,000 people that Australia is a ‘racist country’ with ‘racism in our midst’.

Not just applied to Indigenous Australians, but Indian Australians, Chinese Australians, Australians from the Middle East,’ he said.

‘The [Voice] referendum becomes a powerful, symbolic statement of what we want to be as a nation, goes to the core of our values.’

Kerry O'Brien (left, with the Voice architect Thomas Mayo) on Wednesday slammed Australia as a 'racist country' and heavily criticised the media and politicians as he promoted a Yes vote

Kerry O’Brien (left, with the Voice architect Thomas Mayo) on Wednesday slammed Australia as a ‘racist country’ and heavily criticised the media and politicians as he promoted a Yes vote

Mr O'Brien (pictured interviewing Barack Obama in 2010) is a six-time Walkley Award-winning journalist who fronted the ABC's 7.30 Report and Four Corners in a career spanning 50 years

Mr O’Brien (pictured interviewing Barack Obama in 2010) is a six-time Walkley Award-winning journalist who fronted the ABC’s 7.30 Report and Four Corners in a career spanning 50 years

Mr O’Brien said a successful referendum later this year would prevent our nation’s leaders – particularly the prime minister and foreign minister, offices held currently by Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong – from looking like ‘hypocrites’ overseas. 

‘When our prime ministers and foreign ministers go to other countries and lecture them about their human rights abuses, perhaps they won’t feel like hypocrites while they’re doing it,’ he said, to raucous cheers.

The event also marked the first time Stan Grant has fronted a public event since the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May.

Then, he stepped away from the public eye off the back of incessant ‘racism’ and a disenchantment with the media landscape.

Mr Grant told the crowd he personally had noticed a significant increase in ‘polarisation and division’, lamenting living ‘in an era of untruth, where even the truth is debated’.

Addressing Mr Mayo directly, he said there was no doubt ‘First Nations people have reported an increase in racism’ amid the ongoing Voice debate.

‘I have a personal view on this, and a personal experience with this,’ he said.

Mr O'Brien (centre) said a successful referendum later this year would prevent our nation's leaders - particularly the prime minister and foreign minister, offices held currently by Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong - from looking like 'hypocrites'

Mr O’Brien (centre) said a successful referendum later this year would prevent our nation’s leaders – particularly the prime minister and foreign minister, offices held currently by Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong – from looking like ‘hypocrites’

Mr O'Brien (seen in an undated photo) has been a familiar face to ABC viewers for decades

Mr O’Brien (seen in an undated photo) has been a familiar face to ABC viewers for decades

Mr Grant revealed when he stepped down as host of ABC’s Q+A indefinitely that racist attacks toward him had reached fever pitch after his coverage of the King’s coronation and that he was receiving death threats.

Mr Mayo said he’d also been subjected to racist trolling which had taken its toll on him.

‘It’s been a marked increase in racism. It has been really difficult,’ he said.

‘This is an attack on Aboriginal people in this country. We cannot let them stop us; that is what they’re trying to do.

‘Like myself, like Stan, don’t let this stop us.’

In advocating for the Voice, Mr O'Brien said Australia is a 'racist country' with 'racism in our midst'

In advocating for the Voice, Mr O’Brien said Australia is a ‘racist country’ with ‘racism in our midst’

Mr Mayo revealed he'd also been subjected to racist trolling which had taken its toll on him

Mr Mayo revealed he’d also been subjected to racist trolling which had taken its toll on him 

Mr O’Brien likewise stepped in to criticise the media’s involvement in the Voice debate, describing his ‘deep disappointment’ in the way the conversation has unfolded.

‘Media is in a weakened state,’ he said. ‘That’s part of the onslaught of the digital age. Newsrooms are stretched, younger, less experienced, they know less of the history and perhaps don’t have the time or inclination to find out.

‘Media ownership is unhealthy, there is one proprietor who owns the majority of news… So I have a deep disappointment in how this issue is being covered.’

Mr O’Brien took particular aim at the Australian Financial Review for an advertisement it ran, and subsequently apologised for, earlier this month.

‘It was disgusting and abhorrent,’ Mr O’Brien said. ‘A front page advert of a newspaper that likes to consider itself esteemed.’

Mr Grant, at one stage during the Q&A portion of the evening, quoted concerns about whether the Voice would be entitled to make representations to the Reserve Bank of Australia.

In March, Mr Mayo stood shoulder to shoulder with a tearful Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as the official wording of the referendum question was announced

In March, Mr Mayo stood shoulder to shoulder with a tearful Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as the official wording of the referendum question was announced

Stan Grant (pictured) addressed the racism levelled against him which sparked his decision to retreat from the public eye - empathising with an embattled Indigenous Voice to Parliament architect who claimed there's been an 'uptick' in racially-motivated abuse

Thomas Mayo revealed he'd also been subjected to racist trolling which had taken its toll on him

Stan Grant (left) addressed the racism levelled against him which sparked his decision to retreat from the public eye – empathising with embattled Indigenous Voice to Parliament architect  Thomas Mayo (right)

‘If they could bring the rates down, that’d be nice,’ he quipped. The crowd cheered along.

He said: ‘This is a seminal moment for our country. You don’t want to leave here uninformed, or misinformed.’

One of the most profound revelations of the night came from Professor Anne Twomey, who offered a thorough, in depth analysis of what might happen if the referendum is successful, but the advisory body which is borne out of that does not live up to expectations.

She reiterated what has been laid out as a primary concern from Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and the wider No campaign: once it is written into the Constitution, it is here to stay.

‘The referendum guarantees the Voice exists, you can’t take that away,’ she said.

But, there will be a ‘fire escape aspect’ which could provide future governments a ‘get out’ clause to revamp the Voice ‘if it is not functioning well, losing authority or not focusing on things that actually matter’.

Mayo has become one of the most prominent campaigners in the Voice after contributing to the creation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017

Mayo has become one of the most prominent campaigners in the Voice after contributing to the creation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney delivers an address during a Voice To Parliament panel, in Sydney

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney delivers an address during a Voice To Parliament panel, in Sydney

This loophole is because the Constitution will only state that a Voice must exist and have the right to make representations to parliament.

But Professor Twomey said the government of the day can legislate ‘how the Voice is comprised, the relationship to Parliament and to reconfigure things to get a better Voice if they realise it is not functioning right’.

‘Parliament can regulate to make it more efficient to decide when and if MPs should take representations into consideration.’

These amendments can all be made so long as the primary function of the Voice – which is for it to exist and for it to speak to government – are not abolished.

But Professor Twomey also noted she does not expect there to be any issues with the scope of the Voice. Given committee members will be elected in their communities, she said it is in their best interests to ensure they’re directly reflecting the wishes of everyday First Nations people.

‘If Voice is focusing on parking tickets and subs, the community won’t be too happy. They’ll be turfed pretty quickly,’ she said.

‘The Voice also simply won’t have the resources to be making submissions on irrelevant things. They will have to be focused.’

What we know about the Voice to Parliament so far 

Here, Daily Mail Australia looks at some of the key questions about the Voice so far, and how the government has tackled them:

What kind of advice can the Voice provide the Parliament and Government?

The Voice will advise on matters that directly relate to Indigenous people.

It will respond to requests made by the government, while also having the power to engage proactively on matters that they believe impact them. 

The group will have its own resources to research matters and engage with communities at a grassroots level to ensure it is best reflecting their needs.

How will members of the Voice be chosen?

Members of the Voice will be appointed by Indigenous communities and will serve on the committee for a fixed period of time, yet to be determined.

The way the communities choose their representatives will be agreed upon by the local communities in tandem with the government as part of a ‘post referendum process’ to ensure cultural legitimacy. 

Who can become a member of the committee?

Members of the Voice must be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

They will be chosen from across each state and territory and have balanced gender representation nationally.

The government has also guaranteed that young people will be included in the committee to ensure representation across the broad scope of the community. 

Will the Voice be transparent? 

The government states the Voice will be subject to scrutiny and reporting requirements to ensure it is held accountable and remains transparent.

Voice members will be held to standards of the National Anti-Corruption Commission and will be sanctioned or removed from the committee if there are any findings of misconduct.

Will the Voice have veto power?

No. 

Will the Voice work independently of other government bodies?

The committee must respect the work and role of existing organisations, the government says.

Will the Voice handle any funds?

The Voice will not directly manage any money or deliver any services to the community.

Its sole role will be in making representations about improving existing government programs and services, and advising on new ideas coming through the parties.

DailyMail

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