Australia | Referendum

‘Sets us back decades’ - Wiradjuri researcher if Aussies reject Voice referendum

The fiercely fought campaign over the Voice - a landmark referendum in Australia on whether to have a constitutionally enshrined First Nations voice advising Parliament on indigenous issues - is on its final stretch before Voting Day on October 14.

But nothing has changed. Polls show voters are continuing to oppose the concept.

An indigenous diplomacy researcher at the Australian National University’s Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs, James Blackwell (Wiradjuri) works on prioritising Indigenous voices within predominately white governance systems.

Blackwell isn’t surprised by the poll saying a whole bunch of factors like misinformation, disinformation, or even systemic racism embedded into the Australian psyche are why the vote against has a strong majority.

“There’s a lot of fear-mongering and lies, and they use it to make it seem as though it is a much more controversial, dangerous, illegal option than it actually is.

“I think there’s a bit of not wanting to take account for the historical policies that have been done. But a lot of it is ignorance and fear-mongering on the part of certain political parties. The opposition parties are using this referendum for electoral advantage, which is not doing anyone any favours. It’s not changing things on the ground for us.”

A first step

While Blackwell thinks the Voice is the first step towards reconciliation for First Nations peoples, it’s also the first step in determining self-governance and more.

“We can’t advance to ideas of a treaty or self-determined accountability if we’re starting from a place of disadvantage and detriment.

“We want this country to be a shared country where we all can live and have this shared history of ours and white history. To be able to do that involves changing this country’s constitution because that is the founding document that sets the rules for how this game is played.”

Should the vote against win, Blackwell says it will set Australia back for “a number of decades”.

James Blackwell is a member of the Uluru Dialogue and is encouraging his fellow countrymen and women to vote yes in the landmark decision on October 14.

Public Interest Journalism