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Yes? No? Maybe? The confused referendum

Sunday, 8 October 2023  | John Kidson


The October 14th referendum asks for a simple answer to what I believe is a diverse, complex question. I am appalled at the dearth of national leadership being shown by each side of politics. Surely this is a confusing referendum! Vote Yes? No? Maybe? This third alternative I find attractive but of course it’s impossible. I have reflected and become aware of how opinions are not merely divided - they are splintered.

While presiding at history's most famous trial, the judge asked: ‘What is truth?’ These days Australians need to be alert to the ways truth is being twisted, disguised and manipulated in the hands of bureaucratic elites who are focused on power. They fall prey to corruption. They are deceived by the principalities and powers that we are really up against.

So I start with a ‘maybe’.

‘Maybe?’ ... I happily 'call Australia home' - I am proudly Australian:

My heritage: is a mix of some Scottish and some Poms,

a few first-fleeters, Small Family[1] daughters and sons,

I come from both stocks, some marines and some cons ...

However, I deeply regret Australia’s beginnings - the convict chains inflicted on new arrivals, and the discriminatory racial persecutions inflicted on original inhabitants, even to this very day). I am not directly guilty for the many injustices, which are beyond my remit, but I am very aware of being 'lucky' in the lucky country and feel it is past time to share the luck more widely. We must close the 'gaps', responding to the greater need with greater assistance.

And so, I raise my hand with Michael Yabsley, former Liberal member of the NSW Legislative Assembly and government minister, as an instinctive Yes supporter. I sadly acknowledge a 'Yes' campaign's sober leaflet – I say 'sadly’ because:

Yes! The Voice is obviously not going to address every problem facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Yet, it is a positive step towards the improvement of the level of debate and discussion in this area. It will help us to face some of Australia's past and present tragic treatment of our indigenous peoples. It could move us as a nation to 'truth telling' and beyond.

Whereas the opposing thought says:

No! The Uluru Statement from the Heart will not unite us but rather divide us. It will not address the many real needs indigenous peoples face daily. This is an attempt to undermine decision-making and due process in a western democracy that already affords Aboriginal political representation. Ultimately, it is a take-over by stealth and manipulation through preying on Australians' feelings of guilt. As such, it should firmly be rejected as a way forward.

My personal leaflet would say:

Maybe? In this pre-referendum time, robust discussion and active listening should be paramount and lead to healthier debate and good decision-making. Current confusion does not augur well for a unified peaceful 'post-referendum' future. Why this confusion? Did our PM 'jump the gun’? Was bipartisanship promised but not delivered? Are both sets of campaigners polishing the truth?

Michael Yabsley forlornly opted for the date to be delayed and reset. But will a further 12-18 months grant us a better debate? Time alone won't assist rational discussion in this current climate of acrimony, bitterness and corruption, seemingly the ABC behind many political and financial/welfare decisions. Long ago the prophet Isaiah, following the example of Nathan's tirade at King David, condemned such behaviour: 

You are doomed! You make unjust laws that oppress my people. 

That's how you keep the poor from having their rights and from getting justice ... 

how you take the property that belongs to widows and orphans. (Isaiah 10:1-2, ESV)

I am continually inspired by Isaiah's words which call out unjust behaviour and all attempts to confuse and delay the righting of wrongs.

In all of this, I am impressed by the wise words of the 2017 Broome Dialogue on the Voice: there is a potential for two sovereignties to co-exist in which both western and indigenous values and identities are protected and given voice in policies and laws.

However, despite the Broome Dialogue, not all indigenous people are in favour of the Voice. Some are choosing not to agree. They are preferring to extricate themselves from the clan and family system and will vote No. Obviously others agreeing with the outcome of the Broome Dialogue and will vote Yes.

A whole cacophony of voices is vying for support.

Confusion reigns: What to do?

I can't vote 'maybe'.

I need not vote to assuage any guilt, and yet

I must not vote and deny anyone's agency.

I will vote looking forward: in hope to a good future of justice, mercy and mutual respect.

The No campaign seemingly asks us to capitulate: Don't know? Vote No!

I reckon: Best guess? Vote Yes!


John Kidson was a youth worker/uni chaplain and recently retired from ministry in Grafton Anglican Diocese. He is a frequent contributor to Engage.Mail.


Image credit: ‘Uluru Statement.jpg’ by BrownHoneyAnt. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

[1] Descendants of John & Mary Small.

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