I am voting Yes, but many No voters support reconciliation

Oct 12, 2023

The referendum campaign could use more Why, and less Yes.

I am a Yes campaigner and have enjoyed some good discussions with No voters on the campaign – many of whom support reconciliation but can’t see why a change to the Constitution is necessary or helpful. Fair enough concern. Labelling No voters racist or stupid, as some in the Yes camp are inclined to do, is unsurprisingly not very helpful.

If you fall into this group of people – intending to vote No, a supporter of reconciliation, and decidedly not ‘racist’ – this article is for you.

So, let’s start with a few facts – a few Nos, then some Yes’s, then go to the Why’s.

No – the constitutional change will not, in any way, change the power of the Australian parliament to govern Australia for all Australians.

No – the referendum change will not give special voting rights or compensation to indigenous people. If the Yes vote wins, all Australians will remain with same voting rights regardless of their race, colour, gender or creed.

If there is any doubt on this – ask Tony Abbott, Jacinta Price, Warrant Mundine – or any constitutional lawyer or academic or anyone that has read the proposed law.

But Yes – there is a terrible problem with the health and welfare of many in the indigenous communities. By all key metrics they are well behind the rest of Australia and indeed much of the rest of the developed world.

And Yes, it is Australia’s moral duty to fix this. And Yes the indigenous community should lead this change. And Yes, they want to, and Yes constitutional change is an important step in helping them do this. And Yes – the change will make a difference.

So why is that?

First, the change will formally recognise in the Australian Constitution – the governing document of Australia – that there was a nation here when the British arrived.

Second, in recognition of this historical fact and the special place First Nations people have in Australia’s history, the change to the Constitution will create a permanent advisory body known as ‘The Voice’. The Voice will have the right to make representations to Australian parliament about the matters of importance to First Nation communities. It goes no further than that and the Australian parliament will have no obligation to act on these representations.

These changes are set out in more detail in proposed laws. They are simple and eloquently expressed and reflect what I have said above. I’d encourage anyone participating in the referendum to read those laws – they are three short paragraphs in length.

And why will this help?

The First Nations leaders have said this act of recognition is an important symbolic gesture of goodwill and reconciliation from the Australian people to those in their communities. This is important and is why a constitutional change matters more than just an act of parliament or a speech.

And by creating the Voice, First Nations communities will be given a special place in the Australian Constitution to makes suggestions on how to fix the problems and challenges their communities face. The Voice will be a permanent, properly resourced, representative, and knowledgeable body that can advise Parliament on how best to do this.

And one more “No”. No – this change confers no right on First Nations people to a Treaty or special compensation rights. To the extent people are petitioning for a Treaty or compensation rights, this will continue whether the Yes vote wins or not. If you don’t believe me, ask Warren Mundine.

So, I am voting Yes because I want a change. I am not of indigenous descent, but I want less indigenous people in jail, on drugs and suffering poor health and welfare outcomes. I can’t believe any Australian wants this to continue. I am voting Yes because I believe it will make a difference. I am voting Yes because it is a sweet, gentle gesture of good will to First Nations people. I am voting Yes because it gives agency to the First Nations community to lead the change we need.

We are at important moment in our history and it’s time to support our indigenous brothers and sisters with this important change.

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