Labor suggests Shaquille O'Neal praise Cathy Freeman when promoting vote to parliament

Exclusive: Linda Burney's office suggests basketball players may mention the 'tremendous hospitality' of Indigenous Australians at August press conference

The government suggested American basketball star Shaquille O'Neal should praise Cathy Freeman and ask Australians to speak at their sports clubs about the Indigenous vote to parliament during an August press conference with Anthony Albanese, new documents obtained under freedom of information reveal.

But a large amount of internal correspondence about the meeting has been kept secret by the prime minister's department on the grounds that it was organized by the Albanese local electorate's office, not his ministerial office.

“I love Indigenous Australians. Their culture and their extraordinary hospitality,” wrote the office of the minister of indigenous affairs, Linda Burney, in a suggested welcome prepared for O'Neal.

The Los Angeles Lakers star and betting agency spokesman visited Australia on a speaking tour in August, and joined Albanese and Burney during a memorable but brief press conference in Sydney on 27 August. The unlikely trio have met to discuss the proposed vote to parliament, following a request from O'Neal.

The government plans to use sports stars to promote the vote referendum. At the press conference, Albanese had explained strategy when O'Neal entered the room, apparently unexpectedly to the prime minister.

In an email released to Guardian Australia under freedom of information, members of the prime minister's office said O'Neal's team had asked for talking points for his appearance.

"Shaq wanted to promote Uluru's statement from the heart and had previously arranged to do an event with Linda prior to inviting the PM," a member of the Albanese office wrote in an email on Aug. 15. "Shaq would like to say a few sentences to support Uluru's statement if we can provide it."

The recipient of the email is deleted. On August 24, Albanese's office wrote to members of the PM's office asking for another "line". Sign up for our free morning newsletter and evening email to get your daily newsletter "Sorry to keep bothering you about this but Shaq's team has called again about the queue as they will be boarding a flight to Melbourne to meet him," they wrote. "Is there anything available that I can send them?" Another government official, from Burney's office, responded an hour later.

“Thanks – not 100% sure what was needed. But I have compiled a short script for Shaq (attached) about sound.”

The “short script” shows that O'Neal was able to tell a press conference “I love Indigenous Australians” and that Aboriginal athletes like Freeman and basketball player Paddy Mills have “given so much to sports fans like me over the years”.

"Uluru's statement is an opportunity for all Australians to work with First Nations people to create a better future," government staff suggested O'Neal could say, echoing the Labor Party's election slogan of "a better future".

“I ask all Australians to support the parliamentary vote enshrined in the constitution … I want you to lead the conversation in your own community, through basketball clubs, workplaces, schools and family dinner tables.” At the press conference, O'Neal did not say anything was prepared.

“Hello Australia, nice to meet you. I'm here in your country – if there's anything you need from me, let me know,” he said, after walking into a press conference when Albanese was in the middle of a sentence.

"Congratulations to you guys. And I want you to know: Shaq loves Australia. All right?" O'Neal continued.

The Albanian replied: “Excellent.”

O'Neal said: “Okay, bye. I need that government clearance too,” before leaving the room. NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal at a press conference in Sydney with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney How Indigenous voices work and what do people say about it?

A senior lawyer in the prime minister's office, the decision maker in the FOI request, said in his decree that the meeting was requested by O'Neal and coordinated by the Albanese electorate's office, not his ministerial office, and that the department was not involved. in providing direction or assistance. Only a small number of emails are released under FOI, as only ministry offices and departments – not electorate offices – are subject to FOI.

Large pages of correspondence surrounding the meeting were edited by the prime minister's office in the released documents. The decision maker wrote that since the meeting was organized by the Alba electorate's office, emails relating to the logistics of the meeting "are not official ministerial documents and the [FOI] Act applies".

At a news conference, Albanese said O'Neal had "agreed to do some videos and chat about the importance of bringing people together" for the vote campaign.

The government has yet to confirm when the promised video will be released. It is understood that O'Neal did not record any material on the day of the meeting, but discussions were held about making the video later.

Neither Albanese's nor Burney's offices responded to requests for comment on O'Neal's potential campaign video. Albanese's office also did not respond to questions about the FOI editorial or why the meeting was being held through his electorate's office, not his prime minister's office.

After negative feedback about O'Neal's form, Albanese in August told opponents to "relax a little".

"The fact is that Shaq's appearance makes people talk about him," he told 2SM radio.

"Shaq is attracting a lot of people, many of whom are going to hear about voting in parliament for the first time, and that's a good thing."

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