Reflection and Lessons Learned from the Unsuccessful Voice to Parliament Referendum

Allies in Colour will continue to stand in solidarity with our First Nations people. The result of the referendum can be dissected and analyzed in various ways and as the founder of my organisation, I’ve taken a lessons learned approached with a focus on engagement with our multicultural communities. There’s also a PDF version at the bottom if that makes for a better read.

Dear Fellow Multicultural Australians,

We, as a diverse and inclusive nation, have recently borne witness to a momentous chapter in our country’s history with the recent Voice to Parliament referendum. As we reflect upon the outcome, it is imperative to underscore the lessons learned from this referendum for our multicultural Australians, particularly new citizens from migrant backgrounds.

A Shared Vision:

In this nation we call home, many Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities converged with a shared vision—a vision founded on recognizing and rectifying historical injustices. Theirs was a shared recognition of the necessity for a voice that genuinely represents our First Nations, a voice that wields influence over policies and legislation that impact their lives.

Challenges Encountered:

The outcome of the referendum invites reflection and serves as a reminder that our journey towards reconciliation and justice remains an ongoing endeavour. While our collective goal is to strive for a more equitable, just, and unified Australia, we also acknowledge the challenges faced in this process, especially within our culturally and racially diverse communities.

  1. Absence of civic education focusing on Indigenous history to provide context for the referendum.

Multicultural Australians, who may not naturally engage with Indigenous communities, required access to comprehensive civic education regarding Indigenous history to provide context for the referendum. This should have encompassed the historical significance of concepts like “terra nullius” and their enduring impact on future generations. Context was vital to have ensured an informed understanding of the need for constitutional recognition of our First Nations People, preventing misguided comparisons with the experiences of migrant communities.

Allies in Colour is proud to have pioneered the “Political engagement, literacy, and leadership” program for migrants where we covered topics on our Indigenous history.

Details can be found here:

Calls for education as survey shows little knowledge of Voice to Parliament referendum among migrants, refugees

Refer to news article here:
  1. Complex Terminology:

The debate surrounding the referendum often featured complex terminology like “constitution,” “treaty,” and “policies.” Such terminology proved challenging for the average Australian, including those within linguistically diverse communities, to grasp. Recognizing that politically disengaged Australians might not have the time or inclination to delve into these concepts, reliance on social media headlines prevailed.

Allies in Colour was the only multicultural organisation that developed a video for migrants, explaining these complex terminologies while providing context for the referendum.

Video can be found here:

  1. Avoidance of Elitism

The marketing and public relations campaign associated with the referendum missed the fundamental marketing principle of averting elitism. The campaign did not effectively resonate with many multicultural Australians, and its one-size-fits-all approach failed to adapt messaging to diverse communities. The very same messages were being echoed in various multicultural community events and messaging, without consideration given towards the level of understanding of their audience on the referendum. Merely getting diverse community leaders to be the face of an out of touch campaign did not work. Herein also lies the lesson of tokenistic actions not reaping results.  It has also been well-reported that neither the “Yes nor “No” campaign reached the outer diverse electorates where the “No” votes were the highest.

By assuming that getting multicultural leaders to campaign on the “Yes” vote and by having multicultural organisations set the agenda supporting the “Yes” vote, the campaign showed complacency and a lack of respect for what it takes to run a strategic grassroots campaign underpinned by the amount of work it takes to educate large communities before getting their buy-in.

“In almost every major religion and multicultural organisation advocated the Yes vote. And, you know, in spades, people didn’t support that position.”

Refer to news article here:
  1. Transparency of Multicultural Organizations

Many multicultural organizations, dependent on government funding, set the agenda to support the “Yes” vote without adequately understanding or consulting their membership base. The government agencies disbursing grant funding demand political non-partisanship from multicultural organizations to qualify for grants. The discrepancy between the “Yes” campaign’s support and the actual sentiment of their membership base raises questions about the continued public funding of these organizations and underscores broader, serious issues related to political party control within multicultural organisations.

What’s Next, Solidarity and Support:

As newcomers to this land, we can stand in solidarity with Indigenous Australians. According to the data collected by Centre of Multicultural Political Engagement, Literacy, and Leadership (COMPELL), we have elected the highest number of Indigenous politicians in the history of the country. With 3% Indigenous representation in the House of Representatives and 13% Indigenous representation in the senate of the Federal parliament, we could be assured that our First Nations people indeed have a voice in the upper echelon of politics.   We can listen to their voices, learn from their wisdom, and support their aspirations for self-determination. And, by learning the above-mentioned lessons, together, we can contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society.

Moving Forward:

The journey toward reconciliation may be lengthy, but it is a journey that holds immeasurable worth. Together, we can strive for an Australia that acknowledges its past, amplifies Indigenous voices, and allows all communities to flourish.

In unity and respect,

Tharini Rouwette

CEO, Allies in Colour

23 October 2023

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