The Voice to Parliament referendum is set to take place on Saturday, urging Australians to recognize First Peoples in the Constitution and allow their representation in relevant policies and programs. The referendum has been a topic of discussion among Aboriginal people, who have been invigorated by their sincere participation in understanding how democracy works.
The debates around the Voice have presented three competing narratives to the Australian public: the “yes” position, which addresses the unique place of First Peoples in the nation’s life, and the “no” position, which refuses to acknowledge their unique place and rejects any perceived “special treatment” based on disadvantage or cultural difference.
The “yes” position offers peace and a chance for First Peoples to work together towards settlement, while the “no” position rejects any perceived “special treatment” based on disadvantage or cultural difference. The Voice proposal is a compromise position that is believed to have the greatest chance of gaining support from progressives, liberals, and conservatives.
The “progressive no” vote, a minority group, rejects the Voice referendum as an unacceptable compromise for First Peoples’ rights. They argue that the Voice is not enough and that recognizing sovereignty is more important. The debate over the referendum has been discourteous, relying on cruel, derogatory, and racist social media posts. Some leading “no” campaigners have presented increasingly extremist and sensational views to dominate the news cycle and social media.
The “no” campaign has followed patterns of right-wing campaigning from overseas, which is intended to destabilize social relations, trust, and confidence, and seed division. The campaign has sought to link disparate themes to the referendum, such as climate change denial and anti-vaccination beliefs, with the common theme being grievance against the perceived extension of distrusted government into people’s lives. Disinformation has played a key role in this.
Other concerns have been publicly raised about the Voice, such as the risk to people’s private land. These concerns are sincerely feared but unfounded. The highly charged debate over Australia’s past and future is beneath this right-wing rhetoric. Since historians became more interested in telling Australian history “from the other side,” writing First Peoples back into the nation’s story has been met with resistance and shock.
The Voice Referendum and Uluru Statement introduce a new nationalism based on the settlement between First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians, acknowledging the continent’s deeper history as a gift to all Australians. This vision envisions a transformed sense of history that extends over thousands of generations and speaks to place. The Voice aims to strengthen democracy by engaging with those with knowledge and expertise to improve government decisions in Indigenous policy and programs.
For too long, First Peoples have experienced the worst excesses of government, including the police and judiciary. This has led to traumas such as the brutal dislodging of kinship connections, land take without legal basis or compensation, violent dispersal of people from their land, removal of children, denial of basic services, and management of lives by a cruel and underfunded protection board. The government’s role in First Peoples’ lives can be improved by greater participation and local-level input in policy and program design and implementation.
The Voice referendum, supported by First Peoples, aims to improve government relationships and policy effectiveness. A Sydney “yes” rally saw a massive turnout, exceeding expectations. The mood was serious yet joyous, with people from all over Sydney joining in. The gathering was not about division, but a heart-filled yearning to come together as a community and play a role in the future of a nation that accepts its own identity. The crew from “The Shire” received a big cheer from the crowd.