Why No is a hard word to hear
Thank you for writing this. I voted 'no'. I'm not even on social media and I copped the dynamics you are talking about here. I also deeply dislike (in my nature unfortunately) being told "Do this or you're a *insert socially ostracizing label here*." I'm not stupid, all I needed to change my mind was ONE actual reason with some serious rationality behind it and I would have voted differently. No one made a compelling argument other than some vague sentiment/vibe/whatever the kids are calling it these days and the Yes campaign UTTERLY screwed the pooch and our good will with it.
First nations people are my fellow citizens and its shameful that they experience ridiculous levels of poverty and social problems. We should do better, we should be taking a subsidiarity approach to these problems and allow the people closest to the problem to take the initiative in solving them. Bureaucrats in Canberra have ZERO idea of what it is like to be in Wadeye, Santa Teresa or even Alice Springs (I only know second hand from former Parish Priests who lived there, and family members who lived there until recently). They should be taking direction from people who actually live there, not the other way around.
I'm just as disappointed (but not surprised) and I'm bracing for the ridiculous wailing and gnashing of teeth about how all of us first or second generation immigrants are ignoramus racists. I wish you did publish that piece you were talking about. Far more shameful than this whole debacle is that a (rare) decent and intelligent academic cannot make a contrarian public statement without having their reputation or their position threatened.
I am so glad you wrote this
I have a very similar background to you - I don't absolutely *know* that my black g-g-g-grandfather was aboriginal rather than some other sort of black ethnicity since nobody put his name on the birth certificate, but racism certainly impacted his visibly black daughter and granddaughter, given what society was like at the time.
Among the many many problems I saw with *this* implementation of recognition is this - if the Voice had been in existence 50 years ago I'm quite certain that my grandmother would have signed up as a person of Indigenous ancestry in order to vote in it, rather than "passing" and forgetting about the inconvenient branches of her family tree, as was quite easy for her to do. And then, what mechanism is there to stop first my mother then my middle class privately educated child-of-two-PhDs self from also being counted as part of the Indigenous community, despite having no disadvantage to overcome?
There is such a strong taboo over putting any bounds on people's membership of an identity group that they wish to claim membership of that I see no way of preventing people like me - of some Indigenous heritage but no actual disadvantage - from overrunning this body which is supposed to help out those with actual cultural difference and actual disadvantage. And there are probably hundreds of thousands of us, and it's a group that is clearly growing much faster than the seriously disadvantaged and culturally distinct groups that we actually want to help.
The handwaving of serious issues like this (or unwillingness to even see that this could be a problem) has been a serious impediment to my having any belief that the Voice could actually acheive progress in the very difficult task which would have been before it.
I voted Yes and campaigned for the Yes vote, and I would do so again, but it was not possible for me to avoid noticing mistakes and room for improvement in the way in which the Voice proposal and the referendum were managed and campaigned for by the Federal Government and other supporters.
The plain fact is that a proposal that was being supported by 65% of those polled when polling on the topic began in 2022 has received (at the time I am posting this) 39.49% of the vote. That some 25% of voters who were initially sympathetic to Voice changed their minds to vote against it can't be explained by simplistic accusations of racism. The racists (and they do exist) were always in the "No" column, but it was not their votes that proved decisive in the referendum.
Very well written, I voted No as I believe we are all Australian and I could not work out how the voice was going to make any difference to those that are disadvantaged. I acknowledge that there are whole indigenous communities in need but there are also a lot of other Australians in need. Hence assistance should be given on the basis of need, no matter who you are.
As a registered nurse in rural Victoria I have looked after many patients from all cultures that are disadvantaged and it breaks my heart.
As you mentioned people have to stop with the victim hood mentality, there are aboriginal people that are well off. I was quite disappointed with a friend’s daughter who’s father was aboriginal. She was born to an Australian mother with Welsh Italian background. My friends daughter is very attractive, has a loving family on both sides, has had an education, clothed, fed and not wanted for anything. She is also a good athlete and has ran in marathons overseas. She has a son to a very wealthy Englishman, who has supported this young lady completely. This young woman is employed and is a very loving mother to her son. This young part aboriginal woman posted on FB ‘today i feel saddened and worry for the future of my son’.
Her son has nothing to be worried about. He is loved, dressed in designer kid’s clothes, and doesn’t go with out anything. It is aboriginal people that are privileged that frustrate me when they play the victim card and get away with it, especially when there are so many other people struggling.
Re: KP's comment "I also deeply dislike (in my nature unfortunately) being told "Do this or you're a *insert socially ostracizing label here*." I'm not stupid, all I needed to change my mind was ONE actual reason with some serious rationality behind it and I would have voted differently. No one made a compelling argument "
That reminds me of how I felt after the UK's 2016 Brexit referendum.
The Remain camp's case was almost wholly negative - we'll be poorer, GDP will crater, etc. - with anyone voting Leave painted as a racist gammon.
We've still got roughly the same broad divisions: if anything, the bitterness at the extremes has intensified.
Good luck recovering from this, Aus, you're going to need it.
I listened to this talk by Warren Mundine later in the the evening after the referendum was defeated and it confirmed me in my opinion that No was the correct answer, despite feeling sad for people who thought a Yes vote would make a difference.
"Warren Mundine addresses the National Press Club". He starts off gently but the warrior spirit of the man flares during the 30 minutes of questioning by the press who to a man/woman demonstrated that they were behind the Yes campaign.
It's also rather telling how little attention has been paid to what the proposed law actually does. The details about exactly how this new Voice would work and what powers it would have are extremely vague and Australians have good reason to distrust the people who would be fleshing it out.
Utterly superb, eloquent explanation of exactly how I feel
I can well understand why people voted no. I actually didn’t know which way to vote until the morning, but then I thought about the political dynamics rather than the emotion, and figured that this was such an appallingly vague proposition, that it really didn’t matter. It was then actually easy to vote yes, because the proposition put to us was only symbolic, and was entirely at the mercy of the parliament. If it went wrong it would be defunded. If it was going well it could be expanded. I actually have a lot of sympathy for the view that the proposition gave too little to my brothers and sisters. But it was the only proposition I got to vote on, so I suppose I did what I did.
I am so glad to see reference to immigrants in this post. One of the many ignored communities in the Voice referendum were the recent immigrants to Australia who later became Aus citizens. In Sydney, immigrants residing in Western Sydney voted NO whereas those in Eastern Sydney voted YES. Lots of disinformation within Western Sydney communities too. One learning for me was that immigrants are generally not readily accepting of "special benefits" to those who are historically disadvantaged in their adopted country because they think they are victimized by the State for being an immigrant (for example, no healthcare benefits despite paying taxes).
Thank you for this post Katy, I appreciate the genuine compassion evident within it. I voted 'Yes' with gladness, and have been feeling a sense of grief over the results, so the care evident in your writing helps ease some of the blackest doubts my depression has given me about some of my fellow countrymen. I never thought the Voice was an end, but that it could have been a very good step to help the conversation.
I certainly agree that the Yes campaign's communication fell short, and was often overwhelmed by multiple streams of No disinformation, so that listening to many voicing why they voted against the Voice sounds like they were voting in an entirely different referendum. I remember when I first read through the proposal that it seemed like such a modest ask that I didn't imagine anyone could have any significant problem with it.
I can only imagine how heart-breaking it must be for the Indigenous people who worked so hard and so long to bring the Voice before the Australian people. If someone who has faced long-running trauma asks you for help in a way that won't take anything from you and might help them a great deal, it will understandably be very hard for them to interpret a denial as anything other than a distinct lack of kindness.
I just want to join the chorus of thanks for this very nicely put piece 😁
I think the worst part is the yes people retreating to all the vicious little "remain" tropes about racists and fear and whatnot.
As I've tried to reassure some people, there are many many other things we could do for indigenous people in this country (even if I have an allergic reaction to doing things for other people in general, I think and have since I was in my twenties that Australia's indigenous people were an exception). Many of those things might well be better!
And for those who really did think the Voice was the best thing, well guess what? The current government can still legislate for it! They have a specific head of power to do it under and a majority in both houses supported Yes!
So get off your prejudiced nasty sooky little horses and keep going. If you are desperate, read something, I recommend letter from Birmingham jail, but there are many other options.
Great Article! We all can learn from it!