The multi-million-dollar Recognise campaign actively undermined indigenous attempts at constitutional recognition and became an “echo chamber” for Malcolm Turnbull because its chief figures were on the government payroll, an explosive new book claims.
Recognise, which was established in 2012 by Julia Gillard and spent tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds over five years, has previously been criticised for promoting a model neither indigenous Australians nor constitutional conservatives wanted.
Now Shireen Morris, who worked for seven years alongside Cape York lawyer Noel Pearson and others developing proposals such as the current suggestion of an advisory voice to parliament, has unloaded on the defunct awareness-raising drive.
Dr Morris, a law academic at the University of Melbourne, has accused Recognise co-chair and Kevin Rudd political playmaker Tim Gartrell of trying to have her sacked from her job at Cape York Institute.
As well, she says he ordered her out of the room during a meeting with Mr Pearson, Liberal pollster Mark Textor — who was advising Recognise — and Mr Gartrell’s indigenous Recognise co-chair Tanya Hosch, leaving her feeling “humiliated”.
“I felt I’d been kicked out so my work could be rejected, so they could plot a minimalist proposal without my overambitious and naive interference,” she writes, adding that Mr Pearson called her the next day to say he had spoken to Mr Gartrell afterwards and “had a go at him for making you leave the room; I told him he can’t tell me who I’m allowed to bring to a meeting”.
The book revives claims that the Prime Minister reneged on support he had privately given Mr Pearson and Dr Morris for the indigenous voice to be put in the Constitution when he told a Referendum Council meeting in 2016 the idea had a “snowflake’s chance in hell” of succeeding despite giving his blessing for it to be tested among indigenous communities.
She accuses Recognise of working “behind the scenes” to undermine the indigenous body proposal.
Reasons for its opposition, she writes, included the likelihood that because “Recognise and Textor were on the government payroll, they were simply adhering to a predetermined government position; or the pollsters had already decided that the body proposal had no chance of winning a referendum and were advising government accordingly, creating a kind of echo chamber of political low expectations”.
Mr Gartrell last night disputed Dr Morris’s account, saying he had not threatened her job and that his request that she and another junior staffer leave the room during a meeting was “in order to maintain confidentiality when discussing the views of very senior politicians”.
On the “echo chamber” claim Mr Gartrell said: “I strongly disagree with Dr Morris’s perceptions of what we were trying to achieve … What’s now important is for everyone to unite and support the Uluru Statement and I look forward to all Australians getting behind it.”