Yes, not No

I’ve always intended to vote Yes in the coming referendum. It seemed right to accept the invitation of the Uluṟu Statement from the Heart and recognise the First Nations of Australia in our constitution by establishing a Voice to Parliament as they requested. As early as January of this year I had a letter published in The Chronicle supporting the Yes vote and I had another published this month.

As the proposed constitutional amendment was developed, there were some doubts raised about the potential negative effects on government. Some thought there would be potential for legal challenges if Parliament did not accept advice from the Voice. Some thought that enabling the Voice to make representations to Parliament and to Executive government might unnecessarily obstruct public service processes.

Frank Brennan had reservations about the Voice advising Executive Government and proposed an alternative approach but he never allowed any doubt that he would be voting Yes. Constitutional lawyers eventually gave the proposed amendment a green light as unlikely to result in high court cases. Another constitutional lawyer, Greg Craven, with whom I have rarely agreed on anything, came out in support of voting Yes despite his earlier misgivings about the wording.

Unfortunately the opportunity for bipartisanship was destroyed early in the process by the National Party which decided to promote a No vote before the question was even decided. The Liberals followed later, after a lost by-election, apparently in the hope that campaigning for No might improve their broader electoral chances.

Once the wording was decided and the necessary bill enacted by Parliament it was time to look at how we might support the Yes case. I made some small donations to the Yes23 campaign. More recently, a friend invited Majella and me to attend the first meeting of a Toowoomba for Yes group. We have since attended three meetings of that group which now has a Facebook page, YES 23 Toowoomba Volunteers, and an Instagram presence at toowoombaforyes.

A few weeks ago I joined a Facebook group, The Voice 2023 – Yes or No, which describes itself as “a public information sharing group for The Voice 2023 Referendum.” In its blurb it encourages “opinions from both sides of the vote” provided interactions are respectful. Sadly the comments are often not respectful but racist and derogatory to both posters favouring Yes and ATSI people.

I’ve posted a few links to sources making a case for a Yes vote. A few other Yes supporters have indicated approval but most comments are from No supporters. Typically those simply assert that ‘No is the go’ or similar without engaging with the content of my post. Sometimes there are personal attacks on the source or me, often with accusations of communist sympathies or association with a UN or other conspiracy. None of it makes much sense.

Other times I have posted responses to some of the crazier claims about multiple questions on the ballot, inability to change the operation of the Voice once embedded in the constitution, loss of rights to land, or other unsupported assertions. Very occasionally those may have had some positive response but most often any response has reiterated the earlier claim or asserted that the government is not to be trusted.

One possibility is that many of the posters don’t actually believe what they are posting but think there are enough gullible readers who might be persuaded to vote No by their nonsense. Another is that our education system has failed so abysmally that a substantial portion of the population is unable to apply good judgment and logic to the material they read. Either way it is a concern that is not alleviated by the apparent inclination of the alternative government to seek political advantage by promoting the No case on grounds without merit. In recent days that has become even more blatant as Peter Dutton has promised that if the referendum fails and he becomes PM he would hold a second referendum on symbolic recognition and legislate a voice. That’s essentially what is being offered through the current referendum.

I’ll be voting Yes and I hope there are enough citizens capable of reading and thinking clearly to ensure a positive result.