By 9pm on Saturday 14th of October, the whole of Australia was informed that the Indigenous Voice to Parliament had failed, with an overwhelming 60.8% of Australians voting ‘No’. The result was disappointing to say the least, not to mention a huge setback for Australia in many ways especially for the Indigenous Peoples of our country.
After viewing some statistics about the polls, it was comforting to see that the Newcastle electorate voted majority ‘Yes’, which is where most of our students would have voted. But for students still voting in other electorates, I know I was upset to see my hometown in rural NSW voted ‘No’. With further research, I discovered that most electorates who voted ‘Yes’ were large university areas, consisting mainly of younger people who had some form of tertiary-education.
There was a lot of confusion around this referendum, with opposing sides of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ having various levels of campaigning and support from Indigenous Peoples on both sides. It is important to note that a substantial portion of Indigenous communities did vote ‘Yes’. But the No campaign put out slogans such as “If you don’t know – vote No” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, it is significantly difficult to argue that there isn’t something broken within the system and the civil recklessness of voters to simply vote “No” based on ignorance.
There is a large argument that voters did not properly educate themselves around the issue of the Voice to Parliament and, spurred on by the No campaign, voted “No” because they did not understand or know what the Voice would bring. Perhaps there was poor planning around the referendum and the lack of facts around what the Voice would look like after implementation created too much uncertainty for Australians to vote “Yes”.
I must admit that I had no idea what the Voice to Parliament was, or any of the history surrounding the push for a Voice, such as the Uluru Statement from the Heart. That is why I did some research and collected opinions from not only friends and family, but also educated individuals to have intellectual conversation on the matter. My research also led me to attend the University of Newcastle (UON) Looking Ahead Speaker Series event on Indigenous Voice to Parliament. The presentation was held earlier this year on the 16th of May.
The night was led by Shahni Wellington, a Jerrinja Wandi Wandiaan woman, who has worked as a reporter for news networks, such as SBS and the ABC, and is currently working at the University of Newcastle as a Communication Specialist and the host of the ‘Minds Changing Lives’ podcast. There were five guest speakers for the night to bring relevant information to a packed auditorium; Mr Nathan Towney is a Wiradjuri man and the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Indigenous, Strategy and Leadership at UON; Kathleen Butler and Dr Ray Kelly, or Uncle Ray, are the Head and Deputy Head, respectively, of the Wollotuka Insitute at UON; Kishaya Delaney is a Wiradjuri woman and alumni of the University, and worked as a Project Officer under the Uluru Statement from the Heart and continues to advocate for the movement; and Professor John Maynard of Indigenous Education and Research into Indigenous History.
The event was an amazing opportunity for those genuinely interested in learning about Indigenous history, culture and what the Voice to Parliament would mean for each of the speakers.
The call for a voice in parliament began in the 1920s with the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA). John Maynard’s grandfather was the President of the AAPA, Fred Maynard, who fought for Indigenous rights to land ownership, protecting their cultural identity, control over their own affairs, as well as to end the practice of removing Aboriginal children from their families. For about three years, the group gained public traction and openly spoke out against government policy and the practices of the Aborigines Protection Board (APB). After many threats and attempts by the government, APB and policing bodies to throw AAPA members in jail or remove their children from their care, the group went to ground, falling out of the public light.
And now, over a 100 years later, his grandson is still fighting for the same things.
I attended the talk because I was curious and wanted to educate myself on a matter I would be voting on. The Uluru Statement from the Heart was not something I had ever heard of before nor was the Voice vote something I knew anything about. Each speaker had differing backgrounds with a truly remarkable experience and allowed a full discussion about Aboriginal History and how we came to the Voice to Parliament.
I felt the lecture really narrowed down the basic reasoning for the Voice, defining the core issues that a “Yes” vote would be addressing.
Should the First Nations people of Australia have a permanent seat at the table in the federal government to be able to have an opinion on matters and laws being passed which directly affect their people, place and culture?
I feel like this core principle was lost during the political campaigning leading up the vote. There was also a large push from the speakers to the rest of the Aboriginal community, and even all Australians, that this ingrained idea that if our ideals and issues aren’t the same then this means we aren’t united. At the end of the session, the speakers encouraged the audience to remain informed, that what had been discussed had only been a slither of an insight into the battle of getting a Voice to Parliament and we should go and do further research, ask more questions. This was our responsibility as voters.
Both the concepts of doing further research and the idea of a divided people were things the “No” campaign played on – which ultimately won.
Nathan Towney said something that still resonates with me, even more so now that the Voice has been voted down, that “Aboriginal people have always had a voice, it’s just that now people need to have ears.”
I have only provided a brief recount of the highlights I took away from the experience. The full recording of the event can be found via this link: https://www.newcastle.edu.au/events/looking-ahead/looking-ahead-voice-to-parliament.
So, what now?
I think the outcome being a No vote is a setback for our First Nations Peoples and speaks volumes about the deep-rooted racism in our country. But this fight was not extinguished over the 100 years it took to get to this point and I doubt that it ends here.