‘We are going to vote for the Aboriginals’. That was my grandson’s response in his sweet little 6-year-old voice, when I asked him what he was going to do today. Today happened to be Saturday 14th of October, 2023 when all Australians over 18 fronted up to polling booths all over the country to vote on whether to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament. And more importantly for some – to get their free democracy sausage and buy a cake.
The proposed Voice is intended to amend the constitution to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as Australia’s First Peoples by closing the gap and improving outcomes that most of us take for granted. It is about governments listening to and engaging with Aboriginal people on the ground about matters that impact their lives negatively. It is about acting on legislation to improve the lives of Aboriginal people. It is about access to community services, improving educational outcomes, well-being and preserving their culture especially in remote areas where Aboriginal people are amongst the most disadvantaged communities in the nation. Some Indigenous leaders have said it’s about love. It is the day when today’s 6- year -olds will learn about this momentous day in the history lessons of the future.
A time for mourning for some – but not for most
Now it is the morning after. The majority of Australians voted NO. It wasn’t surprising when you consider it was the 45th referendum in Australia and the 37th to fail. Many people had the view that we shouldn’t have had a referendum, especially when it was likely to fail anyway. On top of that, there are so many other big issues at the moment, such as homelessness, cost of living, climate disasters, to name a few. Not only that, it was costly. In fact, taxpayers will be forking out $450 million. However, the referendum went ahead and offered an opportunity for all Australians to demonstrate social awareness and kindness to each other.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has pledged to find a new way forward to close the gap between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians. As a privileged white Australian, I feel really sad about the outcome of the referendum along with many others of my ilk, I’m sure. But I can’t begin to imagine how sad it must be for most Indigenous Australians who voted YES. Some Indigenous leaders have begun a week of silence to grieve the outcome of the referendum.
The Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney had this to say about the referendum result, all the while fighting back tears. I must say I had to wipe away a few tears as well as I listened to her cracking voice and her eyes welling up.
“I know the last few months have been tough. But, be proud of who you are, be proud of your identity, be proud of the 65,000 years of history and culture that you are part of. And your rightful place in this country, we will carry on and we will move forward and we will thrive”.
“This is not the end of reconciliation.”
Why did Australians vote NO?
I think part of the problem was a lack of education about the referendum. The influence of social media to spread misinformation also contributed to a NO vote. And then the NO campaign seemed to get much more airtime. However, it was strange to hear some people claiming they’d never heard of the referendum, despite extensive advertising efforts.
If you don’t know – find out
As a democracy, we have a legal obligation to vote and it should be taken seriously. Voters should understand why, what and who they’re voting for. But many voters were discouraged from learning and making informed decisions. Instead of highlighting the need for education about why a NO vote was important, the NO campaigners were raising their placards in the city streets and spruiking ‘if you don’t know, vote no’. That would have been an easy out for many people. But why? Why not find out, if you don’t know. A polling analyst from Red Bridge Group put the result down to a class divide between the more educated wealthy areas voting YES, while lower socio- economic areas voted NO. This pattern was particularly evident in Victoria.
Comments from No voters
It was interesting listening to people on the TV news after the referendum talking about why they voted NO.
Common responses were:
A yes vote would divide us
They get more than us anyway
They’re going to take land from property owners
They’re going to fill up all the places in schools and there’ll be none left for anyone else
It’s not good for anyone.
I hope you lot enjoyed your democracy sausages.
The pamphlet via letterbox drop
Thanks to istock for free image.