The Blackfella referendum should fail miserably
from Peter O’Brien
Professor Greg Craven of the Catholic University has a piece in the Weekend Australian (paywalled) posing ten questions for opponents of the Voice. I will attempt to answer those questions. What follows is the text of Professor Craven’s article with my responses indented after each question.
Referendums are much like marriages. Sooner or later, romance is confronted by reality.
In the lead-up to a referendum campaign, both sides revel in their own rhetoric, the wickedness of their opponents and the certainty of victory. Then the grinding slog of the campaign begins.
We have now fully entered the campaign phase over an Indigenous voice.
The fondest hopes of both sides have evaporated. On the Yes side – my side – the notion there would not be an organised No case, that it would all be a romp in the park, has collapsed. This will be as much a fight as any other referendum.
On the No side, the idea this referendum might be strangled before birth, that it could be argued away before even being put, is over. There really will be a titanic clash of constitutional wills.
I don’t believe the more informed opponents of this proposal wanted the referendum strangled at birth. Most want the referendum to go ahead so we can, hopefully, put this issue to rest. Unfortunately, we know that if the proposal gets up, its proponents will not regard the issue as settled. We will then move on to demands for treaties, ‘truth telling’, compensation and Aboriginal sovereignty. Opponents will likely accept the result. But if the proposal fails, the activists will not accept the will of the people, so expect them to double down on their claims that Australia is a racist country. So, either way, the issue will not be settled.
Being positive, this clash could at least be civilised. There will be good people on both sides. Debate certainly can be sharp but it should not be jagged.
More challenging, this is a debate that matters profoundly, not a tiff about my symbolic republic. Particularly for Indigenous Australians, someone could get seriously hurt by both campaign and outcome.
Oddly, few people realise there is not really a No side in any referendum. Rather, there are two Yes sides for different constitutional visions. In this case, one is for constitutional recognition, the other for a Constitution free of Indigenous emphasis.
Critically, each group bears the same onus of proof in demonstrating their proposal is cogent, compelling and will not harm the Australian polity. There is no such thing as “Just vote No”. You vote Yes to one or the other.
On this I agree with Professor Craven. We often hear the simplistic refrain ‘if you don’t understand it, don’t vote for it’. That is not a valid basis to vote No. If you don’t understand it, then you should find out about it. P/2