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Historic campaign launches for a ‘Yes’ vote

Alison Barrett writes:

Health and community leaders have thrown their support behind the campaign for a ‘yes’ vote at the 14 October referendum, which the Prime Minister yesterday described as “a once-in-a-generation chance to bring our country together and change it for the better”.

Launching the Yes campaign in Adelaide on Kaurna Yerta, Anthony Albanese urged Australians to “vote yes for recognition, vote yes for listening, vote yes for better results”, and stressed the importance of supporting “an idea that came from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

“Voting No leads nowhere. It means nothing changes,” he said (see the full speech).

“Voting No closes the door on this opportunity to move forward…Don’t close the door on listening to communities to get better results…And don’t close the door on the next generation of Indigenous Australians.”

PM announces referendum date. Photo by Alison Barrett.

The importance of ensuring systems and policies are more responsive to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was powerfully highlighted when Tanya Hosch, a director of Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition, entered the stage in a wheelchair.

She rose to speak at the microphone, revealing that she had left hospital the day before after recovering from surgery to amputate the lower part of one leg, due to a complication associated with type two diabetes.

“I’m not without privilege and access to services, but still the service design let me down,” she said.

“I know that if we already had a permanent voice, there would be people around that table that understand my story, my experience and what could make things better and different for me and for people like me.”

Hosch – who has been advocating for constitutional recognition for over a decade – told the audience “if we continue to do things as we always have, we will get the same results. This is an historic moment in a long journey towards justice and recognition.”

She called on Australians to volunteer and join the yes campaign – “we cannot achieve a resounding ‘yes’ without you. So, we need every single supporter off the sidelines and into the campaign”.

Tanya Hosch. Photo by Alison Barrett

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas called on Australians to “give Indigenous Australians a great say over their future”.

Cobble cobble woman and co-chair of the Uluru Dialogues Professor Megan Davis emphasised the importance of the day, and the need for change: “The status quo does not work for our people.”

An Indigenous Voice to Parliament will enable better quality policies and better outcomes, she said. This referendum is about correcting the national story, and “about recognising First Nations’ peoples through a Voice”.

“We know that well over 80 percent of our communities support a voice. We also know that those who don’t support a voice get 80 percent of the media coverage.”

Misinformation abounds

Meanwhile, two new reports underscore the level of misinformation facing voters.

Experts have reviewed the claims made by the yes and no campaigns in the official referendum booklet that is being distributed by the Australian Electoral Commission.

While claims in the booklet were approved by politicians involved in either case, they were not independently fact-checked before publication.

A new review, by members of the Gilbert and Tobin Centre of Public Law and the Indigenous Law Centre, found the “claims made to support the ‘yes’ case are accurate”. They are supported by Australian and international research that practical progress will be made in areas such as health when governments listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, according to a report in The Conversation.

On the other hand, the claims made in the ‘no’ case are “largely misleading”.

“Many of the claims simply ignore the existence of contrary facts and history,” Professor Gabrielle Appleby and colleagues write.Read The Voice to Parliament explained

Meanwhile, an analysis of social media coverage on the Voice since the beginning of this year showed that coverage “is more likely to be piqued by criticism of the voice than support for it”.

Professor Andrea Carson and colleagues also found that news of Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s decision not to support the Voice to Parliament, and Liberal party resignations of Ken Wyatt, Noel Pearson and Fred Chaney attracted the most attention on X (formerly Twitter).

Concerningly, some of the other most viewed news items on both X and Facebook have been found to include misleading information.

The authors acknowledged their analysis is not “exhaustive” of the many contributions to the campaigns, but said “it does tell us the ‘yes’ campaign has a lot of ground to cover in the next six weeks if it’s going to succeed”.

Calling out racism

Following the announcement of the referendum date, the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association shared resources to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in coming weeks.

“AIDA recognises that the dialogue surrounding the referendum vote can be overwhelming and triggering for members of our community,” the association said in a statement.

Other organisations, including the Queensland Human Rights Commission and the National Justice Project, also expressed concerns over increased racism against First Nations people during the campaign.

“Racism at any time is unacceptable, but in the next six weeks, we can expect even more racism during the referendum campaign,” National Justice Project said.

If you see or experience racism during the referendum campaign, you can use Call it Out to make an anonymous report or lodge a complaint with the Queensland Human Rights Commission.

The Healing Foundation has a list of community self-care resources for First Nations people experiencing negative impacts of the referendum debate.

Wider commentary

The South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) “declared its support for the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and for a Voice that will provide a powerful and effective mechanism for First Nations peoples to actively participate and give direction about policies and laws which affect them”.

“SACOSS supports all elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart recognising, at this moment in time, that the focus is on the Voice, while not diminishing the need to begin work on negotiating Treaty and embracing Truth-telling,” said Dr Rebecca Tooher, SACOSS Director of Policy and Advocacy.

“We already know that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are given proper representation in the provision and delivery of their health services through bodies like Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, their outcomes are much better,” she told Croakey today via email.

“Having a Voice will enable more of these successful models of health and wellbeing, and help to better address Closing the Gap targets. When people feel recognised, included and heard, they are more likely to feel better about themselves and their communities – this is likely to have positive mental health and wellbeing outcomes.”

Future generations

Following the recent Hands on Heart National Youth Voice Conference, members of the Uluru Youth Dialogue issued a declaration in support for a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament.

“Seventy-three percent of young Australians support this nation-building reform. Our generation will be the most affected by the choice all Australians of voting age will face on referendum day, followed by our children and their children,” the Declaration states.


From Twitter