Standing together to vote ‘Yes’: A courageous conversation between two worlds
By Kayla Glynn-Braun and Dr Sarah Homan / 02.08.2023
Content note: Readers, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, are warned that the following blog focuses on content that may cause distress, including colonisation, racism, and systemic disadvantage. It also mentions people who have died. Please take care of yourselves and know support is available.
By Kayla Glynn-Braun and Dr Sarah Homan / 02.08.2023
This year Australians are going to a referendum to decide on a change to the Constitution. They will be asked to answer a simple question: A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve of this proposed alteration?
The answer, yes or no, is hugely significant for Australia, and every part of the world which has been touched by issues of injustice, colonisation, and dispossession.
Earlier this year, we made a pact here at EQI. That we wouldn’t shy away from difficult conversations, and we recommitted as an organisation to telling the truth and speaking truth to power. It’s critical for us to be supporting our Indigenous colleagues, partners, and friends at this time. We’re sharing below a conversation, between our Project Coordinator, Kayla Glynn-Braun, a proud First Nations, Wiradjuri woman from New South Wales residing on Arrernte Country, and our Senior Research Associate, Dr Sarah Homan, a White descendent of Irish and Welsh settlers of this land. This conversation comes from the perspective of two worlds coming together for the purposes of deep listening and truth-telling – and reflects a wider conversation we are having at EQI on our role in supporting the ‘Yes’ vote.
FIRSTLY, WHY ARE YOU COMING TOGETHER TO WRITE THIS?
KAY AND SARAH: This is a topic that’s hugely important to both of us – but we come from two different worlds that are colliding in this debate. As collaborators and dear friends, we are trying to walk a path together hand-in-hand and look at what has led us to this conversation, and why we’re voting YES in this upcoming referendum.
HOW ARE YOU FEELING RIGHT NOW?
KAY: In disbelief that there’s even a ‘No’ campaign. Angry, hopeful, nervous. All emotions apply!
SARAH: I agree, there’s a lot of emotions. I feel a lot of angst, mixed with hope and drive to get this done.
WHY DO YOU SUPPORT THE ‘YES’ VOTE?
SARAH: As a White Settler descendant, in many ways, the Voice makes no difference to me and my day-to-day life. I will continue to reap the benefits of my privilege, granted by skin colour and sown by centuries of occupation of this land. Where it does make a difference to me is in my own values, my sense of fairness, and what it means to stand up for human rights. As beneficiaries of colonisation, I believe we non-Indigenous Australians have a responsibility to finally start looking at the truth of our history, learning and listening deeply and what it means to walk alongside Indigenous people in solidarity. Some people might call it allyship. We prefer friendship and solidarity. This is a moment where we can mutually understand how our worlds fit together, we can uplift each other’s experiences and fight for justice together. It’s about the mutual respect we have for one another to be able to have these courageous conversations and fight for justice and truth.
KAY: As a First Nation person of this country, if the vote goes to ‘No’, I think I will question our country’s values and morals. I think I would feel displaced in my own country and that all the suffering that my mob went through wouldn’t mean a goddamn thing to Australia. It would rip my heart into a million pieces, and I don’t know how I would respond to this. I think it would re-enforce the race war on a higher level that we have seen simmering for many decades and that would open a can of worms. It would set our worlds completely apart, which would take even more time to heal and that’s even if we wanted to try and start that process again. You can only have so many doors shut on you before you stop trying but at the end of the day, I know my people are the strongest people going and I know it’s not just my mob that has the fire in the belly, it’s every tribe within Australia that will not take no for an answer to have their human rights and voice acknowledged and heard. We are ready for the LONG fight if close-minded or racist people don’t want to stand with us. In an ideal world, we would have a Treaty already in place, we wouldn’t be putting this to a vote or even having this conversation. I have hope and I’m holding onto the hope that we want to heal as one and create something that is very unique.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF VOTING ‘NO’?
KAY: Some say colonisation is in the past, however; it’s still occurring to this day. Colonisation refers to the dispossession, genocide, and repression of Indigenous people and their cultures. It also describes the ongoing systems of power that normalise so-called Western and/or European values and knowledge as superior (Cox, A. (2017). Settler colonialism. In E. O’Brian (Ed.), Literary and critical theory: Oxford). In the Australian context, since 1788, there has been systematic and intentional erasure of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders communities and their cultures, in almost every facet of life. There are ongoing and lasting impacts of this today. You only need to look at the statistics and lived experiences of Indigenous people.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people currently live an average of 8 years less than non-Indigenous people. They are more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women report experiencing violence at 3.1 times the rate of non-Indigenous women and Indigenous women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence (Our Watch, 2018). The recent Closing the Gap Report shamefully highlights that just four targets are on track and found worsening outcomes in four areas; Indigenous early childhood development, increased numbers of adults in prison and children in out-of-home care, and an increase in Indigenous suicide (Australian Government, Productivity Commission 2023). If you’re anything like us, you are blown away by how deeply unfair this is. If you’re anything like us, you see this as a human rights issue and you want this to change as it affects everyone not just Indigenous people.
It brings tears to my eyes knowing that for me, the statistics are personal. These issues affect my family in all the ways mentioned above. When you see the reality of this happening in your family and community, you can’t help but think to yourself, how can we improve? How can we re-write some of the wrongdoings? How can we make the right decisions for the upcoming leaders of our nation? It puts huge significance on the choice we are about to make and the divide we need to bridge as a nation.
For non-Indigenous people reading this, ask yourself, how does that fit with your morals? Because it doesn’t sit right with us. We have an opportunity, with this referendum to stand together as Black and White, and say ‘no more’ to this, and we are starting with us to end the hate, racism and violence that has scarred us as a nation, and to invite everyone to join us on this journey!
KAY AND SARAH: When we both think about the Referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, there’s one thought that neither of us can ignore. “What would it be like to wake up the morning after the Referendum to find the Australian people had voted ‘no’?” What will this do to, and look like in, our country, that we both call home?
HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOU WOKE UP AND THE VOTE WAS ‘NO’?
KAY: I’d be very angry. I’d be frustrated that our country wasn’t ready for a Voice. It would feel like there is an ongoing acceptance of colonisation and the disadvantage of my People. It would feel like all the history didn’t matter and that the suffering is okay and people think it should be allowed to continue. It would show how racist our country is and it would reinforce an Australia where we don’t live up to its promises for everyone to be equal and have their human rights respected.
SARAH: I would feel so deflated and wonder how we could ever pick up this campaign again in our lifetime. It would undo the hope and momentum that’s been building for so long. I would feel angry that people didn’t listen to a majority of Indigenous people (over 80%) who have asked for, and support, the Voice.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT THE ‘NO’ VOTE?
KAY AND SARAH: There appear to be two lines of thought when it comes to voting ‘No’. Both seem based on fear of the unknown. One appears to make false claims that the Voice would act as a third chamber of Parliament or that it could even veto policy in Parliament. This is utter nonsense, and it is fear-mongering in the hope people will vote ‘no’ for what they don’t understand. It’s also not what First Nations people have asked for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Another point raised by proponents of the ‘no’ vote is that the Voice is going to divide families along lines of race by putting race into the Constitution. But race is already in the Constitution. And we are already divided along lines of experience; just look at the differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. What divides us is Indigenous peoples not having these rights to have a say to begin with. Not having a Voice, is disempowering. An additional feature of the No campaign is also personality politics. Strident no personalities can be seen on different sides of the political spectrum. It feels like people are taking their word for it without sitting with the issues and thinking deeply on how those issues sit with their own values.
On the progressive side of politics, there are those who believe a Voice won’t go far enough to change the systemic disadvantage of First Nations people. We completely understand the skepticism and see why many (especially Indigenous people) don’t believe a Voice will change things for the better – after all nothing else has so far. To those people we would say – voting yes, doesn’t mean we don’t vote yes, ‘cautiously’. We can vote yes but keep campaigning for more. Indeed, we must. We don’t think it ends with the Voice. It starts with the Voice. If you think this isn’t progressive enough, when you think about it, it's the farthest we’ve come in 235 years. There’s also nothing more (progressive) on the table. If we vote ‘no’ we are co-signing a policy on nothing. Less than nothing. We fear then the movement for Indigenous people’s right to have a say would be set back for decades, if not more.
IF PEOPLE TAKE ONE THING AWAY FROM THIS CONVERSATION, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
KAY AND SARAH: For us, voting ‘no’ seems like an unthinkable risk. It’s taken us over 235 years to get to this step and if we vote ‘no’, we believe (as do many others) we will be taking a step backwards in the rights and recognition of Indigenous people. Will there be more harm that comes from that result? Nothing will change, and we so desperately need things to change for the better.
In our journey, we are thinking about what it would do to the mob that has lived experience of that trauma from colonisation. Will voting ‘no’ take away their voice once again and disconnect them from Country, Community, and Culture? How would it feel to be a citizen of Australia, and yet have a whole country say ‘no’, you don’t get a say in the policies that affect you? What’s the impact of that? Does it reinforce the system and the trauma already instilled and felt by Indigenous people? What happens to a human when their voice is taken away from them due to being a different race or colour?
We ask whilst reading this, you think about your values when considering the YES or NO Vote and put your political views to the side. As a human being, how would you like the nation that we all call home to be and treat every one of its citizens?
Here are some of the questions to ask yourself in the lead up to, and on the day of, the Referendum:
- What will our nation look like if we vote NO?
- How will Indigenous people feel if we vote NO?
- How would you feel to have your right to have your say controlled, questioned, taken away or put to the nation for other people to decide on your behalf?
- How will we begin to heal the impacts of colonisation and create a better place for everyone?
- If not this, what? If not now, when?
We encourage readers to listen deeply and read/listen widely, not just on the Voice but also about the dark history and truth-telling of Australia. Below are some resources we found helpful.
Resources on the Voice and the Constitution
- The Uluru Statement from the Heart
- Yes23 – you can sign up for information and to volunteer
- The ethics of voting “Yes” or “No” to a First Nations Voice to Parliament - ABC Religion & Ethics
- Everything you need to know about the Voice by Meagan Davis and George Williams
- Late Night Live with Phillip Adams, interview with Meagan Davis and George Williams
- 'The Voice to Parliament Handbook: All the Detail You Need', by Thomas May and Kerry O’Brien
- Understanding the Voice to Parliament with Kerry O'Brien and Thomas Mayo, ABC Interview
- A Voice to Parliament training course
Resources on Australia’s true history and some prominent activists
- Sister Girl: Reflections on Tiddaism, Identity and Reconciliation by Jackie Huggins
- Forgotten War by Henry Reynolds
- Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
- Living Black S2015 Ep2 - Freedom Rides
- 1967 Referendum - Behind the News
- The Stolen Generations, National Museum Australia
- Kinchela Boys Home survivors tell of removals, sexual abuse and redemption - ABC News
- Tonightly Explainsly – Mum Shirl
- Eddie Mabo, the man who changed Australia - BBC News
- Collingwood Football Club apologises to Nicky Winmar and Gilbert McAdam for racial abuse
- NITV remembers: Ken Brindle | SBS NITV