Key PointsPrime Minister Anthony Albanese visited the Lakemba Mosque on Friday.He is the third prime minister to visit Australia’s largest mosque.Leaders of the Australian Muslim community have been advocating for the Voice to Parliament.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appeared to strike a chord over the Indigenous Voice to Parliament as he visited Australia’s largest mosque — but not everyone is convinced.
Albanese addressed a congregation of Australian Muslims at the conclusion of the Jumu’ah (Friday) prayer at Lakemba Mosque in Sydney’s south-west, a week out from the referendum.
Leaders of the Australian Muslim community have been advocating for the Voice to Parliament and asked mosques nationwide to dedicate their Friday sermons to show their support.
Albanese is the third prime minister to visit Lakemba Mosque, and it was his first visit as prime minister.
As one man left Lakemba Mosque, he explained that his family was divided over the proposal and had come to hear what the prime minister had to say.
“Our family split. So my oldest brother, he was an enthusiastic ‘Yes’ with me,” he told SBS News. “My brother below me, he had some questions and yeah, he had this sort of scepticism.”
Many members of the congregation who spoke to SBS News were supportive of the Voice, while those who planned to vote against it were reluctant to speak on camera.
Many men said they had come with family members specifically to hear more about the Voice to Parliament. Source: SBS News
Voters will on 14 October decide whether the Voice to Parliament — an advisory body, providing non-binding input to parliament and executive government on issues particularly impacting Indigenous people — will be enshrined in the Australian Constitution.
Campaigners for Yes say the case is simple: it’s about listening to Indigenous Australians when policy about them is made, and recognising them in the constitution.
But No campaigners have cast doubt over how the Voice would function. Some opponents argue it would go too far, while others say it wouldn’t go far enough.
Many people believed Albanese had made the right move in visiting the mosque.
“I think there’s a lot of people who probably still don’t understand what the Voice is about… but I think it is a really good step having the prime minister coming down today and also talking to the community,” one person told SBS News.
Another man said of the Voice to Parliament: “It is an important step in order to open the door for listening, for listening to these voices who are and were marginalised for a long time”.
The latest census data in 2021 found more than 800,000 Australians followed Islam. Source: SBS News
How did Albanese pitch the Voice?
Albanese evoked themes of friendship and referenced evidence of early interaction between Muslim fishermen from Makassar, Indonesia, with Aboriginal people before 1770.
“The relationships between Aboriginal people and Muslims across Australia have been present for centuries, but what really lingers in the mind is the way these people of different cultures came together,” he said.
“This was not a moment of conflict, this was a moment of friendship, of economic trading, of exchanges of language and culture as well.”
Albanese spoke during the Friday prayer which all Muslim men are obligated to attend. Source: AAP / BIANCA DE MARCHI
Albanese said being a Muslim meant being an ally, especially to disadvantaged communities.
“This community, which has also from time to time suffered from discrimination, understands how important it is to be heard,” he said.
“That is what it is about. Yes to recognition, Yes to listening, Yes to getting better results.”
The Friday prayer is typically shorter and includes a sermon.
The Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) had encouraged all Imams, Khateebs, and community leaders to use the sermon to talk about the upcoming referendum.
More than 800,000 people in Australia – 3.2 per cent of the total population – follow Islam, according to the 2021 Census.
The message delivered at mosques had the support of the Grand Mufti of Australia, Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, and the ANIC president, Sheikh Shadi Alsuleiman.
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