Nationals leader David Littleproud has criticised a visit from one of the world’s greatest basketball stars who met with the Prime Minister to lend support to an Indigenous voice to parliament.
Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal courted the media with Anthony Albanese and Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney in Sydney on Saturday while he was in the country.
The 2.15m American had reached out to the Prime Minister because “he wanted to inform himself about what this debate was about,” said Mr Albanese.
However Mr Littleproud criticised the media event and said the government risked turning the campaign for an Indigenous voice into a “sideshow”.
He accused the government of focusing on symbolism and lacking detail.
Speaking at the WA Nationals conference, Mr Littleproud said it would have been better for O’Neal to visit remote Australia and hear directly from Indigenous Australians.
“The voice should be about shifting the dial on domestic violence, on drug and alcohol use in these remote communities. And this is where the government’s got to be careful not to make this into a sideshow,” he said.
‘It has to shift the dial’
He said the Indigenous voice should not just be for “Indigenous Australians in Redfern”.
“It has to shift the dial for those in Cunnamulla, in Wilcannia or in Alice Springs. And this is why the Government needs to give us the detail.
“They need to be genuine about how we’re going to shift the dial for our First Nations people so that we can close that gap.
“Otherwise, this will be a lost opportunity. And while there’s a lot of symbolism, there’s not a lot of detail.”
Mr Albanese said O’Neal’s high profile would help send a “really positive message to the world about our maturity as a nation”.
“He is interested in this country,” Mr Albanese said.
O’Neal is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time and had a glittering career that spanned the 1990s and 2000s.
He is in Australia for the first time in 20 years and touring with unplugged conversations about his life and career.
O’Neal shook hands with the prime minister and Ms Burney but said few words for the media.
“I’m here in your country, whatever you need from me, just let me know,” O’Neal said.
“We all know Shaq loves Australia.”
He was given two jerseys of Mr Albanese’s favourite rugby league team, the South Sydney Rabbitohs, and a boomerang handmade by First Nations artist Josh Evans.
The story was picked up by international news outlets like the BBC and Reuters.
Mr Albanese said the voice would give Indigenous Australians a say on matters affecting them including housing and health and give the parliament a better chance for positive policy outcomes.
“It is about how we see ourselves, but it’s also about how Australia is seen in the world,” he said.
“Australia will be seen more positively when we demonstrate our maturity as a nation by having our birth certificate recognise our full history.”
Practically, it’s hoped the voice will help to close the gap between Australia’s Indigenous people and the wider community on issues including life expectancy, incarceration and education, Ms Burney said.
Asking First Nations people how potential laws will effect them is an act of “common decency and good manners”, she said.
O’Neal’s support will form part of a broader strategy to engage people in the lead-up to a referendum on enshrining an Indigenous voice in the constitution.
“Shaq has agreed to do some (videos) and to have a chat about the importance of bringing people together, and that’s really what the voice to parliament and constitutional recognition is about,” Mr Albanese said.
“He is a global figure, he’s a big figure in all ways.”
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