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Why I will vote ‘Yes’

Sunday, 8 October 2023  | Tom Slater


I have had regular involvements with Indigenous Christians now for some 20 years. Very limited though my experience has been, I have met often with national leaders within the framework of NATSICA (National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Alliance – now sadly defunct), spent time in remote communities, visited former mission stations and had a confronting experience in Redfern. As a result, I have come to believe that the greatest hindrance to the progress of government support for Indigenous Australians is a lack of genuine, meaningful consultation with, and empowering of, Aboriginal communities. The Voice offers a real prospect of changing that.

Respect for the testimony of people of stature whom I trust

I’ve been reading Tony Stephens’ biography of the wonderful and deeply Christian Sir William Deane, Governor-General from 1996 to 2002, titled Sir William Deane: The things that matter. Deane was unashamedly Christian, often overtly in his public speeches. At one point he sets out the statistical reality of comparative mortality rates in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia. For all I have read, I was still shocked by the stats. But he goes on to describe the dramatic positive health gains in the Tiwi Islands, which, he says, ‘show what can be done when the communities themselves are involved in the management and running of their own health programs’.

It is surely compelling that

More than 100 of Australia’s leading health organisations have signed an open letter in support of the Voice to Parliament, saying that they confidently believe the proposed advisory body, which will require a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming October 14 referendum to amend the Constitution, will enhance government decision-making about matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and, ultimately, improve health outcomes. (Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal)

Spurious arguments of the No advocates

I do not believe that the fears advanced by the No case are soundly based, but rather are almost entirely, if not entirely, disingenuous - chiefly, the appeal for more information (‘if you don’t know vote no’). As Barry Jones has written, the way of integrity is ‘if you don’t know, find out!’ It seems ridiculous to have to point out that it is the Commonwealth Parliament that would have the carriage of how The Voice is implemented.

Perhaps the most telling example of calculated deceptiveness is the citing by the No case of Prof. Greg Craven in support of their case, a quotation which he protests is taken entirely out of context. On the contrary, he says he is ‘100% in support of the Voice’.

Other spurious fears

Fear of empowering ‘activists’? That would rule out William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Eddie Mabo … need I go on?

Constitutional change is permanent, in concrete, forever? Really? The mere fact that this is a referendum about altering the constitution shows that to be manifestly false.

Who would choose the members of The Voice? I don’t care, as long as it is Indigenous Australians who do that. I trust them as much as any population of whitefellas – more so in fact.

‘This will divide us’. I wish everyone had read Henry Reynolds’ book Truth Telling: History, Sovereignty and the Uluru Statement.

And more.

Distrust of the leading No advocates

deeply distrust the motives of the prime movers of the No case – Peter Dutton, Bridget McKenzie, Warren Mundine, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price for a start. Price’s address to the National Press Club seems to me to exemplify the unforgivable politicisation of the referendum, especially her assertion that there is no ongoing disadvantage to Indigenous Australians from colonisation. It beggars belief that she could say it. To me it represents a willingness to sacrifice truth and even commonsense for political gain (and we know she hates Labour). Aboriginal groups have predictably and widely condemned the suggestion, but this personal testimony explains the reality of the ongoing disadvantage experienced by countless Aboriginal people, even if Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine and the like have ‘made it’ and enjoy positions of power and relative wealth.

Just 20 years ago, Sir William Deane made a compelling and passionate argument that the consequences of dispossession are still felt daily in the lives of Indigenous people. This hasn’t changed.

Respect for leading Yes advocates

On the other hand, the Yes campaign is supported by people I do like and respect greatly – the likes of Fred Chaney, Noel Pearson, Liberal MPs who have left the front bench or gone out on a limb in support of the Yes campaign – and scores of others. The difference in tone of the proponents of Yes and No is striking to me. 

(I don’t say the politicisation of the referendum is all on the No side. On the Yes side, I think Anthony Albanese has failed to really seek bi-partisanship. Whether that was ever possible with Peter Dutton is arguable, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been pursued with all vigour. Albanese seems to have taken the electorate for granted, which hasn’t helped.)

The long-term consequences of a No vote

I reckon both the cause of reconciliation and the standing of Australia in the eyes of the world will be set back for years by a successful no vote. 

Christian convictions

I could go on, but I have to stop somewhere. To me the biggest argument for a Yes vote is that the case for the Voice aligns with my understanding of the Biblical testimony of a God of justice and grace, who in Jesus manifestly cared about the poor and disempowered of society, and whose followers are enjoined by Jesus and the apostles to do likewise, or risk being judged to have a faith that is ‘dead’ or be found amongst the goats! Not for them the cautious, fear-laden, ‘safe’ way of doing nothing. I reckon the atheist HG Wells got it pretty right when he wrote about Jesus and his followers:

Is there a risk in the Voice proposal? I suppose there are risks, whatever they might be. But whoever got anything new done without taking a risk? What are people afraid of? Powerful as I hope The Voice would be in changing the dynamics of policy development, it still has no operational powers.

Come on Aussies!


Tom Slater retired as National Director of the Evangelical Alliance after many years with Scripture Union.  In his retirement he has been blessed by actively supporting the Pitjantjatjara Old Testament translation project, as well a Melbourne congregation of refugees from Myanmar.


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

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