Reconciliation will die with a failed referendum


Modern Australia is like a magnificent structure that generations of Australians – settlers, natives and migrants – have built over two centuries. Our country is as great and unique an achievement as the Opera House, of which even the natives are unspeakably proud. And yet the foundations of our national achievement are flawed.

The Uluru Declaration from the Heart is the true cornerstone of a united Australia, and this referendum promises to bring the natives, the settlers and the migrants together as Australians.

Indigenous advocates Megan Davis, Pat Anderson and Noel Pearson with a piti holding the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which called for a vote in parliament.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Without recognition, the cultures and identities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are existentially threatened. How else can you describe the situation of a cultural group on the Cape York Peninsula, where 1 in 10 of their community is in prison today?

The Voice referendum provides an answer to the ‘how’ of recognition. How will we recognize the First Peoples? Because Australians voted yes to the demand that parliament should have a say in our own affairs. The voice is how recognition comes about.

It is also how we will eventually – with a lot of hard work, determination and cooperation – close the gap one day. As former Liberal Party vice president Karina Okotel pointed out in this masthead last year, the current violence in Alice Springs could have been avoided if governments were constitutionally required to hear the voices of local communities. Local communities had warned of the harm that would result from the lifting of the ban on alcohol. The governments did not listen. Until we have a constitutional vote, there will be no end to the cycle of misery caused by top-down and tone-deaf policymaking.


It is about creating a partnership and enshrining that principle in the Constitution, which will be permanent and authoritative.

If the opponents of recognition succeed in their cynical campaign of distraction and obfuscation, they will destroy the atonement. This is the danger wooing Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Liberal MP Julian Leeser. By playing a game, the federal opposition will be responsible for destroying the three-decade-long quest for reconciliation.

I fail to see how reconciliation will be a viable concept in Australia if the referendum fails. It will be shattered by such failure, and it would be naive to think otherwise. Reconciliation will die with a failed referendum.

I say to the Australians, don’t let the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders pay for the politicians’ failure to work constructively on this. Indigenous peoples came up with a pragmatic and sensible proposal, and it is in danger of being killed by partisan politics.


I don’t believe it will fail. I have faith in the Australian people. There are too many Australians, across the political spectrum, who believe this opportunity is too important to miss. Australia will – fundamentally – change after the referendum.

It will change for the better if we get recognition. Because we are starting a new chapter and leaving the settler versus indigenous polarity behind us. We are entering a new era of unity based on the recognition of Australia’s three stories: Indigenous foundations, British institutions and multicultural migration.

I shudder to think of an Australia that rejects recognition. All I can see is a future of perpetual protest and strife as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will forever be outsiders in their own land. A country’s so-called subalterns steadfastly pledged to see themselves as a colony rather than a nation.

However, this will not happen. Australians will look past the politicians’ games and spoiling tactics. If not, Dutton and the Liberals will be blamed for the failure. Fight about the cost of living, fight about economic policy, fight about every other area of ​​policy, but don’t fight about the recognition of First Peoples. It’s not fair and the questions at stake are too important for the country.

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