Junk Explained: Why Did Shaquille O’Neal Endorse The Indigenous Voice To Parliament?

Albanese told critics to “chill out” after online debate around Shaq’s appearance on Saturday.

Shaq Albanese

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has told critics “chill out” after Shaquille O’Neal backed support for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum while on a trip down under.

The US basketball legend had met with Albanese and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney during a press conference on Saturday.

“He approached me and I think people should chill out a bit basically,” said Albanese to 2SM radio on Tuesday. “The fact is that Shaq’s appearance means that people are talking about it. Shaq appeals to a whole bunch of people, many of whom would have been hearing about the Voice to Parliament for the very first time, and that’s a good thing.”

“I make no apologies for saying I’ll engage with anyone, anywhere, anytime about these issues and anything we can do to raise the profile of this issue is a good thing,” he said.

What Went Down During The Press Conference?

It was reportedly O’Neal’s idea to discuss the Voice to Parliament with the pair, after wanting to “inform himself about what this debate was about”, and expressing interest in learning more about the systemic oppression Indigenous people face, explained the PM.

“Shaq is someone who is well known to younger people, and one of the things that we have been doing is trying to mobilise support for the Voice to Parliament by talking with sporting figures,” said Albanese on Saturday.

“Shaq has that record especially when it comes to bringing people together of different backgrounds which is consistent with our approach to bringing a constitutionally recognised Voice to Parliament,” he said, adding that O’Neal will also feature in videos to highlight the importance of “bringing people together”.

“I am really pleased, and very proud that Shaq has sought a request through the Prime Minister to specifically talk about the plans that we have,” said Burney, a Wiradjuri woman. “He said it was a noble task, that it important. We need to build broad-based support across the country for a referendum change.”

After chatting with Albanese and Burney in a private audience, Shaq made a brief appearance at the televised press conference, but did not answer any media questions. “I’m here in the country, anything you need just let me know,” said O’Neal to the politicians. “I want to let you know that Shaq loves Australia.”

What Is The Indigenous Voice To Parliament?

The Voice to Parliament is a call that comes from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, penned by community leaders in 2017, which pushes for the formation of an advisory body to assist the government in making policies that affect Indigenous people, enshrined in the Constitution.

To introduce it would involve a ‘yes’/’no’ majority vote through a referendum in order to implement the changes.

The statement was rejected by the Turnbull Government at the time, who claimed it was neither “desirable or capable of winning acceptance at referendum”, and “would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament”. (Malcolm Turnbull said earlier this month he would now vote ‘yes’ if the referendum came to be).

“Respondents … viewed the Voice as an important way of listening to First Nations peoples, improving policies, and making a practical difference,” found the results on an online survey of more than 1500 Australians in February. “Others saw the Voice as a way to recognise the special status of First Nations peoples as the country’s traditional owners.”

In August, Albanese shared a draft referendum question for the Uluru Statement from the Heart at Garma Festival in Arnhem Land, NT, offering: ‘Do you support an alteration to the constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice?’

Labor had previously outlined their commitment to implement the full Uluru Statement from the Heart — which includes two additional recommendations — as part of their election promise, and was the only party to support it in full.

Why Is The Voice To Parliament So Divisive?

The Indigenous Voice to Parliament has been supported by 25 Non-Government Organisations, as well as Labor, and Reconciliation Australia, however, the proposal is heavily debated because not everyone sees it as a be-all-end-all solution to Sovereignty and self-determination concerns.

“We are not Australian citizens. We are outside of the Australian Constitution as ‘aliens’ to its governance,” wrote the Aboriginal Embassy Statement from the 2017 Sacred Fire Walkout Statement. “We demand that the Commonwealth Government desist from its deceitful intent to usurp our sovereignty through a war of stealth, by resetting the invaders’ relationship with Sovereign First Nation.”

Greens Senator and Djab Wurrung, Gunnai, and Gunditjmara woman Lidia Thorpe has been vocal on the topic, saying that her party wants to see Indigenous rights affirmed and protected without the lengthy weight of a referendum, by instead legislating the recommendations from the Bring Them Home Report and Deaths in Custody Royal Commission, as well as the backing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Greens also want to see more energy going towards a Treaty being signed first, as “the potentially more difficult but ultimately more transformative part of the Uluru statement,” explained Thorpe in July.

Why Has Shaq’s Involvement Been Controversial?

Shaq’s weekend comments hav been picked at for being platformed above Indigenous voices, as well as coming across as a publicity stunt for the Albanese Government, as well as the former NBA star’s past support for US law enforcement, according to The Conversation.

Thorpe labelled Shaq’s endorsement an “insult” to Indigenous people, and called him out for “putting his nose into business that has nothing to do with him” in a radio interview with 3AW on Monday.

“He does not understand what is going on in this country,” she said. “He should not be commenting.”

“If the PM and the Minister for Indigenous Australians thinks Shaq’s experience with ‘lifting people up who are marginalised’ is the answer to winning ‘yes’ votes for the Voice, then it demonstrates just how clueless and out-of-touch they both are with what the needs of Aboriginal Australians are,” wrote Warlpiri/Celtic woman and independent conservative Country Liberal Party Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price on Facebook.

“I’ve no doubt Shaq’s a top bloke, but it’s a bit insulting to call on a black American to help with black Australians, as if this is all about the colour of one’s skin,” she said on Saturday. “Aboriginal Australians historically have more in common with Native Americans than African-Americans. Such shallowness with no substance when we’re faced with such serious issues.”

The referendum has not been locked in yet, but Labor has said the date will likely be before the next election in 2025. A poll from July by the Australian Institute — albeit with a sample size of 1000 — found that nearly two in three Australians would vote ‘yes’ to enshrine a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution.