'No' wins: Is this the end of reconciliation?
Last night, Australians resoundingly voted against the Voice to Parliament referendum in every state.
After the result, Indigenous leaders who supported the referendum released a statement calling for a week of silence, to grieve the result. It says…
“Recognition in the constitution of the descendants of the original and continuing owners of Australia would have been a great advance for Australians. Alas, the majority have rejected it.
This is a bitter irony, That people who have been on this continent for 235 years would refuse to recognise those whose home this has been for 60,000 and more years is beyond reason.
We will not rest long. Pack up the Uluru Statement from the heart. Fly our flags low. Talk not of recognition and reconciliation. Only of justice and the rights of our people in our own country.”
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From Schwartz Media, I’m Ange McCormack. This is 7am.
Following the referendum result - First Nations Australians won’t be recognised in the constitution, and they won’t have a Voice.
And, it means the Uluru Statement from the Heart has been rejected. The path of Voice, Treaty, Truth is over.
Today, contributor to The Monthly and The Saturday Paper, Daniel James, on what this result says about our country - and how we’ll move forward after voting No.
It’s Sunday, October 15th.
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So, Daniel, we've just learned that the referendum has been defeated. We've been wondering for months about which way this vote would go. What's your reaction to this result?
My initial reaction was, not one of disbelief because it's intellectually something that we've seen coming down the line for months now in terms of the way the polls have been trending. But it was kind of a numbness, you know, to have Antony Green on the ABC basically calling the referendum defeated before 7:30.
Audio excerpt -- Antony Green:
“So we're calling South Australia has voted no and of course with three states voting no, the referendum is defeated as well. Whatever happens in Queensland, in Western Australia.”
Audio excerpt -- Presenter:
“So there it is. Antony Green has called it at 7:24 p.m.. The Indigenous voice referendum has been defeated.”
Any referendum is the clearest articulation of what the Australian people think on any one particular subject matter. And this result is a resounding no, a deafening no. One that will resonate for years and one that will have ramifications for years as well. So intellectually, I was going through all of that and then there was a feeling of numbness and then a tremendous feeling of sadness, because whether you're a yes or a no supporter of this referendum, what it actually represents is an outright flat rejection from the Australian people of a very simple and humble offering from First Nations people who presented this to Australians in a peaceful, considered, thoughtful way. And the referendum has just given a clear and utter no to the idea of constitutional recognition and a voice enshrined in the Constitution.
And as you said, it was a resounding no, a clear no. What do you think that says about the country?
I think that there is an apathy within the electorate. One thing was really obvious and that was the apathy amongst some of the people that were lining up or had just finished voting in the referendum and it was clear that some people weren't sure why they were there.
Audio excerpt -- Voter 1:
The lack of information… doesn’t give us confidence as to, I’d rather have it no.
It was clear that some people didn't want to be there.
Audio excerpt -- Voter 2:
“I don’t know what it’s really about, so I just voted no.”
And it was also very clear that some people weren't across the issues at all, the reasons behind that, we can only speculate.
Audio excerpt -- Voter 3:
“I felt that we already have them in the parliament, our Indigenous people, so I kind of thought I’d go the no vote today.”
It's one thing to lose an argument for the yes people, to lose an argument in a fair fight. But this wasn't a fair fight. This was a toxic campaign, a nautious campaign, a campaign that saw Aboriginal people caught in the middle. Yeah, it was a racist campaign. It was an ill-informed campaign, one full of misinformation and disinformation. Yes campaign didn't do enough to combat that, and the no campaign exploited that beautifully. It’s something that we can probably expect in elections as we move forward, that okay, we don't need to talk the truth. We don't need to have a fair debate. We just need to throw grenades every day that are totally factually incorrect, that are lies, and it works.
If we think of some of those tactics from the no side, do you think it's less that, yes lost the referendum and more that no was clever enough to win?
I think given the scale of the defeat, you could say that yes lost it and no won it. But I don't think it's because of any sort of amazing political skill or strategy on the no side. I just think that the Yes campaign allowed the No campaign to get a head start. They didn't have any operatives within their campaign to get in the gutter with the no side and really stomp out some of those lies and then information as they were being told. Complicit in all this, of course, has been the Australian media. And I think a couple of weeks ago the Australians for a Murdoch Royal Commission did some analysis of the coverage from the Murdoch media in particular, and 70% of the coverage from that particular news organisation had been against the Voice. And when you're talking about constitutional reform, constitutional reform is a very hard thing to achieve in this country. And I think that the base politics of if you don’t know, vote no mantra has been very effective. I think having Warren Mundine and Jacinta Price as basically the faces of the No campaign has been devastating for the chances of any constitutional reform because it's given an easy out to anyone who is a soft yes or a soft no.
It enabled those voters to say, “Oh well look, there's prominent Indigenous leaders who are against this.”
Absolutely. And look, I think that's been a really effective element of their strategy. But if we really look at the campaign and the idea of the referendum as a whole, if you're going to pinpoint a time and a place when the referendum was lost, it was when Peter Dutton came out and opposed it, mischaracterised it as a Canberra voice. History shows us that to have any chance of having a referendum to be successful in this country, it requires bipartisan support. And Peter Dutton decided to use the referendum to build his own political capital that I don't think it's going to result in any sort of electoral benefit for them come the next election.
There are dozens of PhDs to be written about last night's result, but the early analysis is that the Yes campaign was a very ineffective campaign. The No campaign was somewhat effective. But I think overall the thing that killed the referendum was an apathy from the Australian people, they don’t really care about the issue, turning up the vote because they have to, because I don't know about the vote, I'm going to vote no anyway, and I’m going to get on with my day. And in many ways that's the most distressing part of it all, because it means it gives a green light to the people who have brought a level of Trumpian politics to this debate, gives them a green light to carry forward and to try those tactics again. And it's going to be pretty damaging for our democracy, I believe.
Coming up after the break – What will it take to rebuild a path to reconciliation?
So Daniel, the referendum debate was toxic and divisive. But there was one thing that both sides at a campaign level agreed on, that there is a gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. So how will that be addressed now, do you think, without a Voice, what will we do now?
Well, no one has actually come out with any sort of plan as to what we will do from here. The debate itself has emboldened racists within the community, it has to be said. It means that it is now easier to vocalise hatred towards First nations people in this country than it has ever been. And that's a result of this debate in the way it's been conducted. So in terms of things like closing the gap, in terms of things like reconciliation, we are worse off here today on the 15th of October than we were on the 14th of October, because we know that there is very little will to do anything to address disadvantage. I hear that there are some people talking about starting a treaty process to get all the language groups and clan groups and the tribal groups around Australia to get together and start negotiating a federal treaty with a government that has to be willing to do that. That is years and years off. And one thing that would have been able to start that process and help that process along would have been a federal voice to parliament. But that is not to be. And so people going around prophesying in that treaty and truth telling is the way forward. I have no confidence whatsoever that the Albanese Government will want to touch this issue around treaty, around First Nations recognition, around social justice for First Nations people. They certainly won't want to touch it this term and if they get in the second term, they'll move on to something else. So I think this result sent a message that the appetite from the Australian people to do things like a truth telling process and a treaty process is not there because they couldn't even bring themselves to vote for a very, very modest proposal in an Indigenous voice to Parliament.
If we think about the Uluru Statement Voice Treaty Truth. Where does this leave that statement and that proposal?
Well, the Uluru Statement from the Heart is effectively dead. I mean, there's no purpose for it anymore. There won't be another referendum on it. I don't believe for a second what Littleproud or Dutton say around the referendum for recognition. That won't happen. Dutton's already walked away from that. So the idea of the voice, the idea espoused within the Uluru Statement is ostensibly dead. I know it talks about a Makarrata commission and eventually a treaty process. The political reality of last night means that that is a long way off. There are going to be continued divisions within the political classes of this country. And I hate to say it, but I think there will also be deep divisions emerge within the indigenous community, which is going to be very, very sad. But that's how damaging this debate has been.
Marcia Langton wrote in The Saturday Paper yesterday that reconciliation is dead. I'm wondering how you see it, though. And if you do agree with her assessment of reconciliation or if you have more hope than that, that there is a path to reconciliation in this country.
Yesterday's result marks the end of a lifetime of advocacy for a number of senior First Nations leaders across the country and over time, and people like Marcia, people like Noel Pearson, people like Mick Gooda, people like Tom Calma, people like Pat Anderson, Pat Turner. They've been remarkable in the way that they've led our mob through so many important issues, helped make sure that there is service provision there and that it's culturally appropriate and had to fight tooth and nail for all the dollars to make that happen. But this is the last major piece of advocacy for a whole generation of First Nation advocates and leaders. There is now a small opportunity here, it's going to take time, it's going to there's going to be some deep scars run throughout the community and people are going to carry that personally. But there is no choice but to go on, to carry on. I always think in terms of times like this, is that, okay, the battle is over, but the war goes on. And I don't mean that in a flippant sense. I mean the war on disadvantage, the war on inequity goes on. The war and improving outcomes for First Nations people across education, health and justice goes on. I know it sounds like I'm bitter, but there's a lot of passion flying about. I have full faith in the First Nations community that we will pick ourselves up, gather ourselves around each other, support each other and carry on doing what we have to do because there is no choice.
Throughout the series on 7am this week, Daniel, you've been asking people Marcia Langton, Barnaby, Joyce, Thomas Mayo, all of them kind of at the end of your interviews, the same question, which is what Australia do we wake up to on October 15th? We're here now. So I want to ask you the same question. What Australia are we in today?
I think we're in an Australia that is diminished, an Australia that is on the precipice of going down the path of Trumpian politics. I think we're on the precipice of being ruled by a political class that hasn't done much for itself outside of politics itself. I think that it's a tremendously sad day. I always said that if the vote was to be yes, it would be heard as a whisper by First Nations people. If it was a no, it would be deafening. This is like someone has got a loud hailer right next to your ear and they're shouting no time and time again. And if not no just for the referendum. It's no on wanting to hear from First Nations people in a peaceful, respectful way. That won't change. Our mob will be angry, but they will always be respectful. They will always be peaceful and they will always be generous. But that's going to take a long time to heal. So I think the Australia of this morning is one that is lesser than it was yesterday.
Daniel, It's been a really long campaign, but we've really appreciated your sensitive reporting, your expert analysis on this bruising debate. But thank you for your reporting and your analysis and thanks for your time.
Australia has voted in the first referendum in over 20 years — a referendum billed as the culmination of decades of reconciliation work.
Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Daniel James, on what the result reveals about the country and where we go to from here.
Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper, Daniel James
7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper.
It’s produced by Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, Yeo Choong and Sam Loy.
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