Welcome to Country: As I write this piece, I wish to acknowledge the Wangal people of the Eora nation, traditional owners of the land, whose soverignty and connection was never ceded. I pay my respects and regrets to the elders; past, present and emerging.
When it comes to Australian Politics, I'm rarely optimistic.
Today, I'm not just disappointed, I'm disgusted.
The 'No' vote won, and all over social media, Conservative Racists are celebrating.
Two months ago, the government introduced a referendum vote for an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament.
This was important, because despite having the oldest continuous culture in the world, Australia is one of the few Commonwealth nations that doesn't have a proper advisatory body recognizing it's indigenous people. We have a Ministry for Indigenous Affairs, but it's treated like an afterthought, most commonly staffed by a non-indigenous person, and seem to mostly exist to sign off on companies run by billionaires blowing up indigenous rock art and sacred sites, or the government cutting down a Birthing Tree rather than detouring a new road around it.
Attempts to advocate against this have been hampered by a lack of co-ordinated response and a series of Conservative governments who made it very clear that they don't have to listen to non-government opinions.
The Aboriginal Voice to Parliament would not have had the power to make or veto laws. It couldn't issue penalties or circumvent the justice system (despite what some "No" Propaganda claimed). It would have been simply what it says on the tin: A voice for people who have spent too long shouting to be heard.
It's frankly disgusting to me that even in this toothless, watered down state, we still couldn't vote "Yes".
I'm reminded of the last Referendum in 2017, when Australia legalised Same Sex Marriage.
It wasn't necessary, all we had to do was remove an amendment made in 2004, when then-Prime Minister John Howard changed the wording of a Marriage Law from "two people" to "a man and a woman".
Progressive Prime Minister Julia Gillard tried to do just that, but left office before she could get it through.
Instead, the LGBTQIA+ community suffered through months of "think pieces" and news segments claiming that voting for non-Straight people to have equal rights to marry their partner would be like voting for people to marry children, or their pets. I listened to friends and family members protest that they didn't hate gay people; they just wanted marriage to remain a religious institution. (As if their marriage would somehow suffer if two men or two women didn't have to travel overseas to marry each other...)
The Voice to Parliment referendum was very much the same.
As soon as the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made the announcement about the referendum, the News and Social Media were flooded with "reports" about how this would lead to "Abo Dole Bludgers being able to tell mining companies what to do".
Suddenly, youth and domestic violence crime rates in remote Indigenous communities were all the News Hosts could talk about. Suddenly, all reporting on police hostility and disproportionate violence, and the unusually high rate of Aboriginal Deaths in Custody vanished.
Even if I didn't fancy myself a decent person, one look at the famously racist bigots who were appearing on TV every night to promote a 'No' vote would have made me vote yes on principle.
Why the Voice to Parliament Failed
The failure of the "Yes" vote comes down to a number of factors, as expected as they are disappointing.
- Scare Propaganda
- A weak "Yes" Campaign
- Letting Perfect be the enemy of Good
- Good Old Fashioned Racism
As mentioned above, Media Coverage skewed Conservative, despite grassroots attempts to educate and encourage people to vote yes. We did our best, and it wasn't enough.
The "Yes" campaign suffered from complacency, thinking that voting yes was such an obvious outcome that they didn't do much to campaign for it, focussing on other issues. This was a mistake, and a costly one.
Some people voted "No" because they didn't think that the Voice proposal went far enough, or did enough. I can agree with that; there needs to be more action, but voting against your own interests is not the way to do it.
There were also the expected number of abstentions and informal votes that happen in every election, though how you manage to screw up writing 'yes' or 'no' is beyond me...
And, of course, Racism. Pauline Hanson, Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott and the rest of the White Australia crowd are crowing all over social media right now, so I'm going to post this and stay off the internet for a bit.
To any Aboriginal Australians who may be reading this: I'm sorry. All we had to do was listen, and we couldn't even do that.
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