Radiothon On Now


Radiothon On Now



A Voice On The Voice

4 September 2023
The Voice

Later this year, probably October, those of us eligible to vote are being asked a binary question on a subject matter that is anything but binary. The issues in around the Voice referendum – the controversy; the conflict; the violence; the childish fascinations of politicians looking to exploit the process for political gain, resulting in the fraying of any semblance of consensus on matters of national identity and the direction the country is headed – would make for an interesting case study. As an explorative academic exercise, it would be fascinating, if it weren’t happening in real time and the havoc wrought on those caught up in the maelstrom so real and unrelenting.

Those who lived as the subject of the same sex marriage debate, an exercise in political cowardice, forced upon the public by a government too weak to move beyond its own prejudices, will well sympathise with those subjugated as part of this process, the 45th referendum. Whereas the plebiscite on same sex marriage came from a place of humiliation, this referendum comes from a place of humility. A modest proposal of ensuring we are seen and heard. But despite any motivation, it’s not fun being talked about and yelled at on a daily basis by people who will not be impacted by the result of the referendum one way or the other. Not since the 1967 referendum has the electorate been asked to deliberate on a proposition of First Nations place in Australia. Unlike then, this referendum does not have bipartisan support, unlike then we now have a Fourth Estate which has never been so willing and able to monetise division and distrust of the apparatus of government. It makes for dangerous times.

So in the interests of clarity, it’s important to understand what’s at play and where the various campaigns involved in the debate stand.

The true test of this referendum, the subtext to it all, is what sort of country we want to be. Do we want to assert ourselves as a mature nation, one which can accept its true history in all of its glaring brilliance and light absorbing darkness, its horror, its brutality and its pettiness? If the answer is yes, then First Nations people and communities must have a say in how that history is written. We must also have an integral role in ensuring all the harm and damage done throughout our joint history as a result of the colonial construct stops and doesn’t happen again. But how to ensure this will happen or not?

At the time of writing there are ostensibly four sides as to where various camps sit on how they view our past and how they want our nation to proceed into the future, and it’s at the heart of whether the referendum will succeed or fail.

First, there is the “Yes” side, backed by the government, the teals and other moderates in the parliament, as well as every state and territory leader. The campaign, coordinated by Yes23, is strongly supported by corporate Australia and a range of community organisations, and has its origins in the Uluru dialogues, from which the Uluru Statement from the Heart was formed. On the surface, it is a formidable alliance, but most polls have shown a decline in “Yes” support, although it should be remembered that polls have fluctuated and will continue to do so throughout the course of the campaign.

Then there’s the progressive “No” campaign led by Senator Lidia Thorpe and the Blak sovereignty movement. The proponents of this strand of opposition are critical of the “Yes” campaign because they believe the proposed reform doesn’t go far enough; that, after more than 230 years of dispossession, genocide and the ongoing trauma still affecting First Nations people today at the hands of the colonial construct, a voice to parliament is piecemeal at best. The movement is also critical of the sequenced reform proposed at Uluru, with many believing treaty should come before truth and the voice.

The conservative “No” campaign, run by Advance Australia, is one full of alarmism and fearmongering. It has heavy backing by some of Australia’s richest people and will be the main campaign that comes to mind when most Australians think “No” in relation to the referendum. So far it has deployed divisive language and soundbite slogans aimed at the nightly news, alongside troll farms trying to fit their far-right manifestos into 280 characters or less. The campaign is supported by federal opposition leader Peter Dutton and his shadow cabinet and is being backed by News Corp. Its approach seems to be to reduce any civility in the debate, reducing it to a left/right issue. On this front, the campaign seems to have gained traction.

Finally, there are the undecideds. For so many within the First Nations community the hurdle is that, even if there is a voice, it will ultimately have to rely on the same decision-making apparatus and power structures that have done so much harm over the years to our people everywhere. It is an understandable position, and only a fair degree of pragmatism and faith will convert such hesitance into a “Yes” vote, especially when we remember that either through constitutional reform or a treaty process, at the end of the day, it will require faith in the government of the day to negotiate and interact with First Nations people in a manner beyond its own political self-interest.

Through it all there will be Triple R. Perhaps my favourite thing about this station – only marginally ahead of its connectedness to communities across Melbourne and beyond – is the unity the station demonstrates in adversity, and all the fabulous programming hosted and produced by people for the sheer love of it all. Maybe the one thing I love most beyond all of that is its independence! As a station, Triple R isn’t beholden to any one funding source. Presenters are free to talk about and talk to any subject matter or express any view on any issue.

So with all that in mind, how will I be voting? I will vote Yes. Not because I think it’s enough, but because it’s the only game in town and I’m nothing if not a pragmatist. I believe enshrining a voice is the start of something bigger, not merely the end of the campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I have had my doubts, because at the end of it all, it will still require governments of all persuasions to do the right thing, and who in 2023 can have any real confidence in that? All you can have is faith and be prepared to take the leap and see what happens, because things cannot continue the way they are.

The Daniel James is the host of The Mission, Tuesdays 7-8pm.

This article was originally published in the Radiothon 2023 edition of The Trip. The Trip is exclusive to Triple R Subscribers – subscribe to receive your copy!