A council has closed down public comments after coming under fire for claiming 5,000 people attended a Yes rally to back the Indigenous Voice to Parliament when a photo appears to show a much a smaller gathering.
Sydney City Council tweeted the image of Sunday’s rally in the inner city suburb of Surry Hills with the attendees marshalled together to form the word YES for an overhead shot.
‘Thanks to the 5,000 people who came out to Prince Alfred Park today for the Sydney come together for a Yes23 event,’ the council tweeted on Sunday.
The claim that there were 5,000 people in the photo drew immediate scepticism.
Crowd safety expert and former Liberal Democrat candidate for the NSW upper house Daniel Lewkovitz, who owns Sydney-based security company Calamity, turned to technology to shoot down the council’s figure.
This photo tweeted by Sydney City Council along with the claim that 5,000 people were at the rally supporting a Yes vote for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament drew much scepticism online
‘Based on the known area of that space and crowd modelling software I estimate approximately 700 people in that photograph,’ he tweeted.
Another Twitter user provided a similar estimate.
‘There are maybe 800 people there. Unless more in the wings?’ they tweeted.
‘5000 people? Lucky to be 500,’ another person chimed in.
On Monday, roughly 24 hours after the first tweet was posted, Council announced it had closed comments on the post and other ones supporting the Voice.
Some accused the council of shutting down debate.
‘Hey Sydney City Council, if you don’t allow debate but try and cram this yes crap down our throats, stick it where the sun doesn’t shine,’ one person tweeted.
‘You’re a council. Stop taking sides.’
A council spokesperson on Tuesday told Daily Mail Australia that comments had been closed because they were not sufficiently ‘respectful’.
Sydney security expert and former state Liberal Democrat candidate Daniel Lewkovitz turned to technology to question the figure
‘The City of Sydney welcomes open discussion and a respectful debate on its social media channels and we ask all users treat one another with respect,’ the spokesperson said.
‘Recently, there hasn’t been respectful debate taking place in our comments section and we decided to turn comments off on some posts, which is in line with our processes.’
Daily Mail requested examples of the ‘disrespectful comments’ but the council declined to supply them.
The Council also defended its crowd estimate saying the photo had been taken late in proceedings after most people had gone home.
‘Event organisers estimated a total of 5,000 people attended the event in Prince Alfred Park on Sunday,’ the spokesperson said.
‘The group ‘Yes’ image and video posted on our social media channels was taken after official proceedings had wrapped up and didn’t capture everyone who attended the event.’
A number of people questioned why the council was backing the Yes case in the first place.
In legislating for the referendum Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised not to spend public money promoting either side of the debate except for dueling pamphlets outlining both the Yes and No cases.
‘Is it just me or are the local statuary (sic) authorities like councils etc spending tax payer funds on the voice appearing to be misappropriation,’ one person tweeted.
‘Who gave these bodies the right to spend these funds on a vibe?? Where’s the accountability??’
Independent Mayor Clover Moore (pictured at a Sydney event in March) leads Sydney City Council
Another Twitter user claimed the Council, led by independent Mayor Clover Moore, was spending an eye-watering amount on the campaign.
‘So true. They have no place in giving our money on the Voice. The Sydney City Council alone is giving $500,000,’ the tweet said.
The council spokesperson said supporting the Voice was in line with long-term policies.
‘Council resolved to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2018 and has resolved to support a yes vote in the upcoming referendum,’ they said.
‘While Council voted to endorse the City of Sydney’s communications and engagement activities to support the ‘’YES’ campaign, we respect all views and encourage people to make an informed decision on voting day.
Yes23 rallies were held around Australia on Sunday in an attempt to bolster support for the Voice with recent polling indicating the proposal is sliding towards defeat.
The most recent Newspoll revealed support for the Voice plunging to 43 per cent of voters overall with just two states, NSW and Victoria, tracking to vote yes.
The referendum, set to be held between October and December this year, needs a mandate from the majority of people and in the majority of states to pass.
Sydney City Council has been contacted for comment.
What we know about the Voice to Parliament so far
Here, Daily Mail Australia looks at some of the key questions about the Voice so far, and how the government has tackled them:
What kind of advice can the Voice provide the Parliament and Government?
The Voice will advise on matters that directly relate to Indigenous people.
It will respond to requests made by the government, while also having the power to engage proactively on matters that they believe impact them.
The group will have its own resources to research matters and engage with communities at a grassroots level to ensure it is best reflecting their needs.
How will members of the Voice be chosen?
Members of the Voice will be appointed by Indigenous communities and will serve on the committee for a fixed period of time, yet to be determined.
The way the communities choose their representatives will be agreed upon by the local communities in tandem with the government as part of a ‘post referendum process’ to ensure cultural legitimacy.
Who can become a member of the committee?
Members of the Voice must be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
They will be chosen from across each state and territory and have balanced gender representation nationally.
The government has also guaranteed that young people will be included in the committee to ensure representation across the broad scope of the community.
Will the Voice be transparent?
The government states the Voice will be subject to scrutiny and reporting requirements to ensure it is held accountable and remains transparent.
Voice members will be held to standards of the National Anti-Corruption Commission and will be sanctioned or removed from the committee if there are any findings of misconduct.
Will the Voice have veto power?
Will the Voice work independently of other government bodies?
The committee must respect the work and role of existing organisations, the government says.
Will the Voice handle any funds?
The Voice will not directly manage any money or deliver any services to the community.
Its sole role will be in making representations about improving existing government programs and services, and advising on new ideas coming through the parties.