Australia will vote tomorrow on a modest proposal to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a voice to the parliament and the executive “on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”. Unfortunately, it looks like the No campaign has sown enough fear, uncertainty and doubt to prevent us from taking this small step forward as a federation.
Australia has a long and dark history when it comes to our treatment of our First Peoples. It wasn’t until 1967 that they were included in the census and it was just 40 short years ago, in 1983, that our First Peoples finally received equal voting rights and responsibilities, after more than 80 long years of being denied a fair go and pushed to the margins. The No campaign say that this proposed change introduces race into the constitution, while conveniently ignoring the fact that racial prejudice has been baked into our constitution and our culture from the very beginning.
Our First People’s have spent years gathering consensus on a reasonable path forward towards reform that might go some way towards a more just and equitable future after centuries of injustice. They are asking for voice, treaty and truth and more than 80% of First Nations people support the change we are voting on (according to the only large-scale, representative survey that has been published).
Tomorrow we have a chance to vote yes and do what Proverbs 31:8 says:
Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
In 1903, a member of the first Australian National Parliament stated that “it is impossible for the average aboriginal to understand any political question, or to vote with intelligence”. If the No vote succeeds tomorrow, I fear it will be because, 120 years later, that sentiment carries the day amongst a majority of Australians.