Avoid the damage of NO: A plea to all women

Sep 19, 2023
Woman thinking yes or no.

This is a PLEA to all sensible women (and men) to vote Yes in the referendum because the damages of a No win will move us backward, not forward. We will still need ways of remedying the serious mess of inequities initiated in 1788. The failure of Yes will show the lack of sufficient trust of voters of those whose country this was before colonisation. As a feminist, I hope that women’s experiences as the second sex will help us better understand more of the difficulties of first nations descendants!

The case for their Voice, as proposed, offers reasonable ways to address the difficulties and suffering effects that continue. However, the current negative indicators of a winning NO vote suggest that we may find Australia more divided and disconnected by the NO voters campaigning and victory. The antipathies promoted by too many No campaigners may further undermine the already difficulties of Advancing our Australian Fair(ness) claims!

Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) last Friday wrote “The Voice is the clean canvas Australia needs to paint a better future,” says a key Yes campaigner. “All the No campaign is doing is throwing shit at it.” Some of that shit is sticking, and by far the stickiest is the claim that the Voice is divisive, dividing Australians by race. Because the Voice would comprise only Indigenous Australians, advising only on matters that concern Indigenous Australians. In a society that holds equality as its highest ideal, this line of attack is devastating.”

Later Hartcher also states Indigeneity is NOT the same as race as it, as it identifies original inhabitants with examples from the successful similar Nordic examples. The First Nations here are clearly descended from our original inhabitants whom we treated very badly for nearly 200 years plus. Much of that bad treatment is still evident in the No campaigners’ claim that the Voice is divisive, dividing Australians by race.

The Voice would comprise only Indigenous Australians, advising on matters that concern Indigenous Australians. Hopefully this definition will attract more yes voters and more locally delivered Yes Advocacy will clarify the confusion sensibly.

However, the effects of the referendum, particularly a No win could leave some likely scars and anger on both sides. The voters in 4 weeks’ will have the results. If there is a YES votes majority, most of my anxieties on losing wounds, will not be relevant. Australia will be ready to pay attention to the real inequities of nationality of the First Nations identifiers. The Voice of descendants will be planning how to achieve the missing rights via this Voice: We can fix inequities caused by long-term colonisation damage!

What if the winners are the No voters and non-voters? The current moods indicate serious splits in our views of those we can now identify as racist and not. The outcomes could be seriously damaging as the loss will create anger chasms and splits between the ill-informed winners and legitimately angry losers. The effects of past week’s No advocates have indicated serious splits in their range of divisive concerns that some subgroups of the NO voters articulate.

These changes come on top of already fragile levels of trust of Australians’ trust of those in power as shown in the data below from the current annual Edelman Trust Barometer:

AUSTRALIA – February 8, 2023 – Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer reveals Australia is on a path to polarisation, driven by a series of macro forces that are weakening the country’s social fabric and creating increasing division in society. This year’s report finds that almost half of Australians (45%) say the nation is more divided today, than in the past. The rich and powerful are identified as the major dividing force (72%), followed by hostile foreign governments (69%), journalists (51%), and government leaders (49%). 

 If Yes wins, we can remedy two centuries plus of ignoring or attempts to undermine the valuable knowledge of First Nations, and we will no longer work to diminish their status. We will gain from their knowledge and creativity. Their knowledge is still well beyond ours in many areas such as of land care needs. Losing the results to No will create new tensions.

There are other broader problems the world is facing that are creating serious threats to peaceable futures. In my 1995 Boyer Lectures I raised the tensions that were being created both locally and internationally by the increasing dominance of market-based neoliberalism. These were rising levels of cuts of social spending by governments and the privatisation of the many community wellbeing services that had been part of the post WW2 social democracies. In the intervening nearly 30 years these shifts of our label from citizens to customers have reduced the necessary trust of democracy as the preferred model of governance. The results here and elsewhere, like the UK and USA, have increased the levels of distrust of those in power and trust stability has decreased.

Australian data show the similar tensions. The last Federal election saw an ALP victory that was only possible when they scored extra votes in the senate from independents. The growth of Teal members and the Greens continue to hold controls. The Coalition is not popular and many of its small l liberal members are voting Yes. These are signs that more independents are likely in the future. Governance may be more fragile than the majorities of the main parties have offered in the past. So, the trust of our governments and politicians has reduced considerably and it is likely it will continue to fall if Yes loses and democracies become unstable.

So, as a long-term advocate of the importance of increased trust and social capital wellbeing, I suspect we can expect more serious political tensions from national problems to come. Adding a loss of the referendum Yes vote and odd splits of the No voters will not help us. We need to reduce the political confusions and difficulties of maintaining both adequate political trust and plans for better futures for all of us.

NB I acknowledge my original intentions were to vote YES, but not to attack the NO case. However, my widening recent concerns about the potential damage of too much weird No propaganda have led to this plea.

So please vote YES to reduce the real risks that too many NO votes offer!


For more on this topic, P&I recommends:

Avoiding the same fate: Political Polarisation in the US – Part 5




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