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Anti-Voice rallies in Sydney and Melbourne were dominated by crowds peddling a grab-bag of conspiracy theories, including about the referendum, with the protests much smaller in scale than the official Yes campaign marches last weekend.
Several hundred people gathered in Sydney’s Hyde Park on Saturday for the rally, with some carrying “Vote No” signs associated with the formal No campaign, despite attempts by the campaign to disassociate themselves from the rally.
No campaigners walk to the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne.Credit: Chris Hopkins
In Melbourne, neo-Nazi Thomas Sewell gatecrashed the end of the No rally with a group of people wearing black masks, unfurling a banner on the steps of Victoria’s state parliament that read “Voice = anti-white”.
The group performed a Nazi salute and were heckled by other protesters, who were largely drawn from the anti-lockdown rallies that filled the city’s streets during the pandemic but have since dwindled in numbers to about 500 on Saturday.
The rallies, which were held in cities around the country, were organised by pro-Kremlin activist and anti-vaccination campaigner Simeon Boikov, who is known online as “the Aussie Cossack”.
They were promoted under the banner of Boikov’s previous anti-vax “world freedom rallies”, but this time emphasised an anti-Voice position.
Neo-Nazis led by Thomas Sewell turned up to a ‘No’ vote rally in Melbourne.Credit: Chris Hopkins
Protesters held up signs falsely claiming the Voice referendum was part of a “hidden agenda” by the United Nations to steal land.
However, many appeared motivated by conspiracy and anti-government causes like QAnon, with signs and t-shirts protesting paedophile ring conspiracies, vaccination, as well as 5G and other technologies.
The atmosphere of the Melbourne rally had an air of a movement reuniting, with many attendees still agitated by vaccine mandates and other historical health measures enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The group marched from parliament to Flinders Street Station, where protesters took turns to speak to the crowd and sing songs, including a lyrically reworked version of John Farnham’s You’re The Voice – which has been used by their opponents in the Yes campaign.
“It’s all just like COVID. That’s why we’re here because we smell the same rat,” said Mark Mack, who altered the first verse of Farnham’s lyrics to: “They’re trying to take the country over.”
The Sydney event, which was hosted ex-Howard government MP turned Liberal Democrat, Ross Cameron, began with a Welcome to Country by Aboriginal activist Bruce Shillingsworth, who has been linked to the fringe Indigenous “Original Sovereigns”.
He urged the crowd to vote No to Voice, and praised them for standing up to the “evil regime here and around the world” and opposing a “dictatorship” which he did not identify.
NSW upper house MP John Ruddick, a member of the Liberal Democrats who worked with Boikov to organise the Sydney protest, told the crowd that the Voice would set up a “two class structure” in Australia. Ruddick took aim at federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton for proposing a second referendum on constitutional recognition.
Attendees at the Sydney rally for No.Credit: Rhett Wyman
“He wants to have another referendum. He’s not getting the message and he wants to set up regional voices,” said Ruddick, who is a former member of the Liberal Party.
The numbers were significantly lower than the tens of thousands of people who attended Yes rallies in Melbourne and Sydney last weekend.
Earlier in the week, major No outfit Fair Australia said the anti-Voice rallies were “not supported, endorsed or funded by us in any way”. Federal Liberal frontbencher James Paterson urged No voters not to attend the events, condemning them as a “shameless” attempt to push “wacky and extreme causes”.
Speaking before the rallies started on Saturday, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland urged people to draw a contrast between No protests and the Yes marches last weekend.
The No rally on the steps of state parliament in Melbourne.Credit: Chris Hopkins
“Australians should be aware that these No rallies are actually being organised by a bloke hiding in the Russian consulate in Sydney … they should question the motivations in this regard and they should be invited to contrast this weekend’s activities with the positive message displayed last weekend,” Rowland said.
Campaigning in Ryde in northwest Sydney, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese drew on veteran singer Kamahl’s Voice U-turn as he spoke with shoppers at a shopping centre on Saturday morning.
“He’s someone who came out and said No and went away, spoke to people, read what it was about, read the question and decided that he would come out and declare his support for Yes,” Albanese said. “And to say why would anyone oppose this?”
“We have now a new term we’ve coined today: Kamahl-mentum.”
Attendees at a No rally in Sydney.Credit: Rhett Wyman
Meanwhile, Dutton addressed the Liberal Party’s Victorian state conference on Saturday, arguing that Albanese still had not answered simple questions about the Voice.
“I believe Australians on the 14th of October are going to stand up for what they believe in,” Dutton told Liberal Party members in Melbourne. “They’re going to support the position of the Liberal Party because they know that we’ve thought about it.”
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