Sometime during the second half of 2023, we will be given the opportunity to vote YES or NO in what will be known as the VOICE REFERENDUM that arises from the ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART.
As announced by the Prime Minister earlier this year, a YES vote in the Referendum will create an amendment to the Australian Constitution that will enable Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to participate in a democratic election to establish a VOICE which will meet regularly to recommend policies to the Australian Parliament which will have the total authority to accept or reject them.
After the Referendum, Parliament will debate and enact a Bill that creates the rules that will apply to the way in which the VOICE is elected and operates.
In reality it is quite simply a positive step forward in integrating 65000 years of heritage into our Constitution and our life as a nation.
I will vote YES and actively campaign for a Yes vote.
In doing this, I am well aware that a significant number of my friends intend to vote NO and have carefully considered reasons for doing so. I respect their right to vote according to their conscience.
Here are some of their reasons for voting NO.
*Australia is a nation that already has a voice – our Federal Parliament – to which we have elected a significant number of indigenous parliamentarians.
*The Voice will create apartheid.
*Australia provides billions of dollars to Indigenous people every year and this has been wasted. No matter what is done for them, they are ungrateful and will always want more.
*The establishment of a Voice will not solve the problems that are ingrained in indigenous society such as crime, unemployment, alcohol, drugs, health, housing, domestic violence, poor education and lack of skills.
*It is only city aborigines who want a Voice. Country aborigines have no interest in it.
*A Treaty, based on the Waitangi Treaty of New Zealand, would achieve more.
In response to these concerns and beliefs, I tell my friends the reasons why I will vote YES.
*Indigenous people were excluded from the Australian Constitution in 1901. This was an insult and a mistake which must be rectified now.
*When Britain, in 1788, invaded the continent we now call Australia, they stole land which had been occupied by indigenous people for 65000 years. The welfare that is now given to them is a tiny fraction of the value of their land that they have never ceded.
*100 tribes of Indigenous people have never been able to speak to the Australian Parliament with one democratically elected Voice. Previous institutions have been comprised of political appointees who did the will of the governments that appointed them.
*White people have always decided what is best for aborigines, never the reverse.
*Defeating the referendum will achieve nothing. This issue will never go away. We will just irresponsibly kick the can down the road so our children and grandchildren will eventually have to do what we failed to do.
*It is quite simply the right and decent thing to do.
I am certain there are other important reasons why people will vote YES or NO and these will emerge during the referendum campaign. However, the ones I have outlined give an indication of the general scope of the forthcoming debate.
The Albanese Government will not provide funding for either the YES or NO campaigns. Both sides are required to set up there own organising teams and raise their own funds. This is a good thing as it would be wrong for the government to be seen to be promoting YES even though it is a clear policy of the Labor Party. So, it must promote neither.
I have joined, as a volunteer, a significant group called FROM THE HEART and my role is to help organise a strong YES vote from the Senior Australians. My plan is to enlist as many older Aussies as possible to visit everyone in the streets around their own home to chat about the absolute common sense of having a VOICE. We won’t waste money on advertising. Face to face talking is the powerful way to sell this historic strengthening of our national life.
My gut feeling is that there is a significant task ahead.
Right now, my private polling of public opinion tells me that Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania are likely to vote NO and this will create a national defeat of VOICE as our Constitution says that a referendum cannot pass unless a majority of States vote YES.
I also suspect that Senior Australians will vote NO by a margin of 60/40 because of ingrained negativity about all indigenous issues generated over many decades, but I think that a positive campaign could make it 50/50. Young voters will then take it over the victory line.
Overall, I reckon that with sincere and courteous campaigning the cause for YES can achieve a positive victory and I intend do my best to make it happen. My experience is that most older Australians are responsible people who will try to do the right thing for the good of Australia once they understand the issues at stake.
Creating a VOICE is clearly a nation building exercise that will benefit us all.
Nevertheless, I have an open mind to debate any better alternatives that sincere advocates put forward as this issue will never go away. Defeating it will achieve nil.
Grace and Peace in the spirit of ULURU. It is a symbol of unity.