Six years ago, eminent leaders of Indigenous Australians met at Uluru to draft and agree upon a Statement from the Heart. This led them to make a courteous request for a Referendum to be held to approve the establishment of a Voice that would enable them to make proposals to Parliament without having any legislative power.
Some delegates walked out in protest as they wanted to negotiate a Treaty similar in spirit to the one New Zealand Maoris signed at Waitangi 180 years ago. However, the support for Voice was substantial and the debate on Voice versus Treaty is evidence of democracy at work.
The expectation at Uluru that day was one of hope that participation in a vote for Voice would unite our country in a way that Australians have not experienced in the 235 years since the British invasion of the continent.
Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison rejected Voice, but Anthony Albanese committed to it in his 2022 election campaign and has honoured that mandate as Prime Minister. Referendum legislation has now passed the Parliament and we all have the right to vote on it in October this year.
However, the YES and No campaigns are now locked in a bitter and nasty battle that is tearing Australia apart in a way that was never intended by the initial advocates of Voice. Both sides must share the blame for this.
YES is ultra sensitive to questions of how Voice will work, insisting that all will be revealed after the Referendum. Their responses are too often unnecessarily abusive declaring any questioner to be either racist or stupid or both. Quite extraordinarily, they are oblivious to the obvious fact that if people vote No because they don’t get the information they request, there wont be any Voice legislation to reveal to us as the Referendum will have been lost.
NO gives the clear impression that their opposition to Voice is based solely on the fact that, because of their small numbers in Parliament, they see this Referendum as the only opportunity they have to enjoy a political victory over Anthony Albanese before Election 2025 and they will not waste the opportunity. Their campaign is based on the crude political art of spreading false information that sounds like truth, causing many people who intend to vote NO for legitimate reasons to publicly disassociate themselves with Dutton, Littleproud, Hansen, Price and Mundine, meaning that there will be little political gain for them.
The sad fact is that both sides are hugely fostering deep divisions that are destroying the social fabric of Australia.
I have stated publicly on many occasions that I am a YES voter and a Yes advocate as is proven by the speeches I have made over the past year to older Australians of my era and I can tell you that I have not yet been in a room where Yes voters have been in the majority.
In question time after my speeches, or during the coffee break when people can speak in confidence, I find that these are the most persistent questions for which answers are sought and I don’t have sufficient information to answer their concerns.
*How many members will be elected to Voice?
*What will be the annual cost to the Budget for the operation of Voice?
*As there are twice as many Indigenous Members of Parliament as Indigenous people should be entitled to have as a percentage of the population, why can’t those Parliamentarians be asked to do the work of Voice as a specially appointed committee within the Parliament where they can wield influence?
*Will Voice be able to significantly help solve the social and financial and justice issues that have beset Indigenous Australians for a long time and can Voice create genuine value for the expenditure of billions of dollars this is spent by governments in continually failing to solve these problems?
*How can we trust politicians not to give Voice greater powers after the referendum when we know that the disgrace and deceit of Robodebt is a vivid reminder of the long list of the ways in which politics has consistently failed us in years past?
*Can we be guaranteed that Voice is the only constitutional change that Indigenous Australians will request? Will there be more after this one?
I could list other legitimate questions that are regularly asked by decent people, but these are the prime ones.
But I also reveal with sadness that when I seek answers to those questions so I can use them at meetings I address, the YES campaign hits me with criticism for committing the mortal sin of asking, even though we live and vote in a democracy which entitles us to ask.
Right now, Voice is on a pathway to defeat.
This will be an horrendous tragedy as enormous social divisions will be created. It will ensure that Australia becomes a pariah nation on the world scene while racial hatred steadily consumes our country.
It can be avoided if both the YES and No campaigns make long overdue decisions to act responsibly so people can vote in confidence without fear of the future.
I will continue to advocate for YES to Older Australians who currently hold many negatives in their minds about Voice despite having one hand tied behind my back by leaders who refuse to answer questions.
No matter what happens, I will always believe that the magnificent mountain we proudly call Uluru is the spiritual heart of our nation and I will never ignore its cry for justice and peace to be embedded in our souls.
Everald Compton AO