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Yes campaign surplus under microscope

Dechlan Brennan -

Recently released data from the Australian Electoral Commission has revealed leading Yes groups ended the referendum campaign with a surplus - despite ultimately failing to win over more than 60 per cent of the Australian voters. 

The data, released on Tuesday shows a significant discrepancy in the level of funding between the unsuccessful Yes, and victorious No, campaigns, with resulting media coverage focusing on accusations of “dark money” and ‘out-of-touch elites’.

Questions remain which, whilst unlikely to be answered, will fuel criticism that the Yes campaign did not utilise funding as best they could – especially when the result is placed into context of the funding. 

Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition, the fundraising body for Yes23, received over $47 million in donations, and was left a $3.6 million surplus. 

A spokesperson for Yes23 told National Indigenous Times: "Regarding any surplus funds from the campaign, the Board is in the process of determining spending priorities for remaining funds, which will be in line with its purpose of supporting the advancement and empowerment of Indigenous Australians.

Another Yes group, the Uluru Dialogue, put a significant amount of its focus on workshops in small towns and remote communities, with the view of getting the idea of the Uluru Statement from the Heart over the line. They received more than $11 million in donations via the University of NSW, ending up with a surplus of more than $800,000.

The No campaign, which was accused of vitriolic mis- and disinformation, received a significantly less amount of disclosed donations, but were able to win over far more voters.

The Jacinta Nampijinpa Price-led Australians for Unity received close to $11 million in donations, but still spent close to a million more than that. Advance Australia received only $1.3 million but spent more than $10.4 million. 

There is no accurate disclosure to see the finances the two sides had before March 11 - six months before the referendum - and the disclosure minimum of $15,200 means accusations of “dark money” is prevalent. There is nothing to stop one donor donating one million in $15,000 increments and have none of it disclosed.

There are questions that continue to be asked of the Yes campaign, however Mick Gooda has already criticised the PM and leading Yes campaigners for failing to read the tea leaves and adapt the campaign as it went on. 

The damage the referendum did to First Nations communities is also yet to be fully understood - the only group who the referendum should realistically have been about – with 13YARN reporting a significant increase in calls to their hotline during the campaign. 

What has not yet been made clear is what was the result - if any - of the close to $60 million that the Yes campaign received.

Has it gone back into First Nations communities? Was it spent wisely enough, especially in advertising and campaign strategies as the Yes vote began to plummet the longer the campaign went on? Have the advertising companies used by the different Yes groups been held accountable?

There remain unanswered questions about what should have been done differently, including how the unspent funds have been, or are going to be used.

National Indigenous Times contacted the University of New South Wales for comment.  

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