Be informed, don’t take no for an answer.
The Mercury (27/07/2023) by Reconciliation Tasmania’s Co-Chairs Clair Andersen & Beth Gilligan
Across the country this week, Australians will receive by post the official essays from the Yes and No campaigns ahead of this year’s Voice referendum. The 2000-word statements seek to persuade voters on why they should vote yes or no to the referendum question:
“A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
Do you approve this proposed alteration?”
The opening paragraph of the No statement finishes with; “If you don’t know, vote no”.
This is an irresponsible, fear-based declaration, encouraging Australians to remain uniformed and ignorant of the proposal and the issues surrounding it.
Reconciliation Tasmania urges all Tasmanians to do the opposite by engaging with the Voice proposal and its source, the Uluru Statement from Heart, and learning about the background to this request from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Contrary to the constant decry of “no details” from some no campaigners, there is in fact a wealth information available that will assist you with understanding and clarity, as well as help you differentiate between facts and misinformation. Many organisations, including our own, are also speaking directly with Tasmanians between now and referendum day about the Voice.
Making sure you’re informed will also help with an understanding of why we’re being asked to alter the Constitution and why a referendum is required to do that.
Entering your local polling booth on referendum day as an informed citizen is the least you can do to honour the request being made by First Nations people from across this vast land.
The best place to start, even before reading the yes and no cases, is to read the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Easily found on the internet, the 440 words of the Uluru Statement were created by Indigenous Australians after they’d come together in their thousands during 2016-17 seeking a better way forward.
Across 12 paragraphs, the Statement highlights their 65,000 years of connection to country, the powerlessness and despair they face at the ongoing crisis affecting their communities and, importantly, their solution for a better Australia. It ends with a generous invitation for all of us “to join them in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”.
Once you’ve read the Uluru Statement, pick up the yes and no official statements, carefully considering the arguments being put forward as you read them.
As one of Australia’s six reconciliation councils dedicated to highlighting the truth of our shared history working towards greater unity, Reconciliation Tasmania fully supports the requests made within the Uluru Statement and believe the establishment of the Voice to be a modest proposal that will be a step in the right direction towards greater First Nations self-determination, closing the gap of disadvantage and greater reconciliation in our country.
In fact, after decades of laws being imposed upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with little improvements in overall social circumstances, we strongly believe that the current system is broken, and we must do something different. It is time for First Nations Australians to have a greater say in their own affairs.
Following the 1967 referendum, which was passed by over 90% of Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were counted in the national census for the first time and the Federal Government was given the responsibility for making laws for and on behalf of First Nations Australians.
As the only group of people in Australia the Federal Government is permitted to make separate laws for (they cannot make separate laws for Greek or Vietnamese Australians, for example), we believe it is a fair and reasonable proposition that Indigenous Australians should be able to be able to advise the government on those laws affecting their people.
The yes statement articulates how the Voice will work and how it will be a much-needed mechanism for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to play a much greater role in practically solving the issues affecting their people.
It also outlines the unifying opportunity we have as a nation by recognizing 65,000 years of Indigenous history and culture in our Constitution and supporting greater self-determination.
A yes vote in the forthcoming referendum will be anything but divisive. It will be a proud moment of unity and growth for our nation, as we bring First Nations Australian into the centre of modern Australia.
It is a call of hope from the heart for all Australians.
Alternatively, the no statement offers to retain the status quo and maintaining the current paternalistic system of the Federal Government continuing to impose laws on First Nations people. We contend that voting for no change is not a solution, as it is highly likely there would be no improvements in closing the gap and, therefore, the lives of Indigenous Australians.
Worse still, rather than offering a credible alternative solution, the case put forward in the no statement is prosecuted through the generation of fear of the unknown. Many of the claims made in the statement are unfounded and highly negative. They seek to box Australians into voting no through scaremongering.
This is not a new tactic. Fear of the unknown through more rights for Indigenous Australians was rife throughout the Wik and Mabo native title cases. Ordinary Australians were going to lose their homes, it was claimed. Yet, none of the fears came to fruition.
The no statement seeks to keep Australia small and looking backwards to a ‘safer’ past, rather than forward to a more equitable and just future.
One of the key arguments of the no statement is that the Voice is risky because “there are no details”. In reality, the internet is awash with information about what the Voice would be and how it would likely operate, including the Calma-Langton report, commissioned by the Morrison Federal Government.
The report was created through extensive consultation with Indigenous communities across the nation and offers a comprehensive model of how the Voice would be structured, how it would operate and what it would and wouldn’t be able to do.
Everything you need to know is available and easily found on the internet.
Over the coming months, as we head towards referendum day, we encourage all Tasmanians to engage with material relating to the Voice proposal. Our website has several useful links to get you started.
A mantra of ‘if you don’t know, vote no’ paints Australians as lazy and passive people, when we know the opposite to be true.
We have much greater faith in our fellow Tasmanians as fair-minded and engaged people who want clear, factual information to make an informed decision.
That’s why we are working conversation-by-conversation with Tasmanians, talking about the referendum, the simple request at the heart of the Voice and the long road to this historic moment.
Reconciliation Tasmania wishes to see a future where all Australians walk together, make solutions together and deliver together.
Let’s not allow this once-in-a-generation opportunity to unite as a nation and walk together with optimism, respect and compassion pass us by.
Reconciliation Tasmania volunteers are working between now and referendum day, providing understanding and clarity around the Voice. Look out for their Conversation Tables and Understanding the Voice public workshops in your community.