Politics Analysis

Referendum silences First Australians

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

Unlike elections, the thing about referendums is that there really is no hiding the truth.

It seems simplistic to say that Australia is racist — though it is.

Or to say that Australians are easily led, even easily duped — though we are.

But there is no possibility that it was just certain electorates or demographics, or the mix of candidates.

Prior to the Referendum, Marcia Langton wrote in The Saturday Paper:

Australians had the opportunity to accept our invitation in the 'Uluru Statement from the Heart'. Only they had the power to decide whether to accept or reject constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by voting “Yes” or “No” on a representative body enshrined in the Constitution.


I hope I’m wrong, but everything around me is saying that today Australia will reject that invitation. It will choose to leave our hand outstretched.

A referendum is a clear representation of where the country stands. There are no excuses for the result.

And the result is shocking.

And it is simply shameful.

Australia chose to leave that hand outstretched.

And for those of us who feel bruised, imagine how our Indigenous brothers and sisters feel.

While there is no excusing the result, there is also something hovering at the back of our consciousness, the niggling problem of why?

As Ranald Macdonald wrote yesterday in IA, 'lessons need to be learnt'.

IA maintained our pro-Voice position throughout, refusing to give any oxygen to people suggesting there were two sides to this argument.

Yet almost every mainstream media outlet gave at least equal if not disproportionate space to the No campaign.

A campaign of division led by Peter Dutton — a racist, self-interested, non-Indigenous male who managed to find a couple of First Nations people willing to act as figureheads, and then set in perpetual motion by the mainstream media mafia.

Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Nyunggai Warren Mundine were then paraded around as if they were the only First Nations people worthy of comment. As if these two individuals represented the hopes and struggles and needs of every First Australian.

It's like saying Pauline Hanson or Andrew Bolt represents every non-Indigenous Australian simply by being white.

However, by appealing to the latent fear, by rubbing away at any doubts, by offering people the excuse, "Not all Indigenous Australians want a Voice", those who were unsure or frightened, could justify bailing out on marginalised First Australians.

They could feel vindicated in their ignorance with the "Don’t know, vote no" cop-out, and this is how the Coalition’s well-orchestrated fear campaign won the day.  

Knowing these things does not make the result any less shameful, of course.

But there is at least one very important lesson that needs to be learnt.

Those advocating for the Voice – IA included – were all too eager to believe that most people would take the trouble to find out. We were too quick to dismiss those who were confused, those who did not recognise the truth and therefore believed the disinformation, and those who were vulnerable to the Coalition’s fear-based playbook.

For, if there were no underlying fears, ignorance, resentment or division, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

The Yes campaign – and progressive media like IA – should have dealt with this head-on. Instead of underestimating it or dismissing it and inadvertently allowing so many to be manipulated by deliberate lies, disinformation and hate. 

Today, among the many press releases, a powerful email hit our inbox. It said simply that in response to the Voice Referendum result, musician Shane Howard – frontman of legendary group, Goanna – had returned his Order of Australia medal.

In his letter to the Governor-General, Howard wrote:

At this point in history, I can’t be proud of my nation and I feel honour bound to return my Order of Australia Medal.


...I am also deeply troubled by the way our First Peoples, our brothers and sisters, have been so belittled, with such pernicious vilification, in the interests of political power. It is neither generous nor decent of us as a nation.


In the Referendum campaign, we witnessed the rise of well-resourced and intentional ‘disinformation’ networks, eroding democratic principles and decency. This should have been an ethical debate, not a political one.


With all due respect, I believe that until we lose ourselves from our colonial shackles, engage in meaningful Truth-Telling and Treaty-Making with our First Peoples and begin the journey to a "post-colonial" independent Republic, I cannot be proud of my nation. 

It seems simplistic to say that Australia is racist — though it is.

Or to say that Australians are easily led, even easily duped — though we are.

But in spite of all this it is important to remember that 40 per cent voted “Yes”. It is up to us all to continue the fight alongside our First Peoples to heal the divide and be proud of Australia again. 

This is just part of the story. Read the full story by subscribing to IA. You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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