referendum

Reflections on the Referendum: A Grassroots Victory

18 October 2023

5.1 MINS

The referendum was a grassroots victory. Despite the division, there are positives to come out of it and hope for the future of Australia. This includes a renewed opportunity for good policies and the gospel.

The Voice to Parliament referendum has been soundly defeated, with over 60% of Australians voting no to changing the Constitution.

The Yes and No campaigns offered alternate versions of reality.

At a basic level, the Yes camp put forth the idea that what had been done in the past to help ‘close the gap’ on issues such as education, health, housing and employment wasn’t working.

Led by the Prime Minister, it argued the Voice to Parliament was the way forward that would address these issues.

The alternate answer from the No camp was that the Voice would be “more of the same”, as Warren Mundine put it. The rationale behind this was that those who were behind the many failed attempts at Indigenous policy were the same people behind the Voice.

Even more pointedly, Indigenous leader Bess Price argued that those behind the Voice had actually made life “worse for us”.

On Saturday, Australians had the chance to decide which version of reality was closest to the truth.

And decide they did.

With the referendum defeated in a landslide, there will be a lot of analysis in the coming days, weeks and months about what contributed to the result.

However, some areas are readily identified.

The Rise of Jacinta Price

The Yes camp was emphatic that the Voice was about reversing Indigenous disadvantage. But the most vocal proponents went further and maintained that No voters with European ancestry were continuing to punch down on those with Indigenous ancestry.

The above narrative created the perfect conditions for the rise of Jacinta Nampijinpa Price. In an incredible twist of irony, Senator Price found herself continually pushed to the margins and ignored.

The very people advocating for the Voice were the same ones who repeatedly failed to listen to Senator Price and her family over recent decades. What was needed in Canberra, she asserted, was not a Voice, but ears.

The Yes camp campaigned on the premise that their cause was one against Indigenous marginalisation. That same campaign then went on to marginalise Indigenous leaders such as Senator Price (and her family) and Warren Mundine.

The Yes case played their hand. But they were blind to the fact they created the situation for that exact hand to be played against them.

Before the referendum, Jacinta Price was a little-known Liberal Country Party Senator for the NT. Today she is a formidable figure on the political landscape and a force to be reckoned with. Some are evening cheering her on as Australia’s next Prime Minister.

Heralding from Alice Springs, and with a tragic family background, Senator Price was the perfect person to prosecute the No case. She is a politician who doesn’t hail from the wealthy, city political class. Price is as grassroots as it comes.

Corporate Australia Helped the No Case

The pile-on of corporate Australia backing the Voice fostered this top-down approach. And it arguably made things far worse for the Yes case.

Qantas preached its moral superiority with its endorsement. Yet while it was busy painting some of its aircraft in Yes livery, the airline was embroiled in major ethical scandals, exposing its moral hypocrisy.

All the major sporting codes endorsed the Voice, including Rugby Australia, the AFL, Cricket Australia, Netball Australia, Hockey Australia, Football Australia, Golf Australia, Motorsport Australia, Boxing Australia and Badminton Australia, to mention just a few.

Major banks and major retail brands likewise poured money into the Yes cause.

Every state and territory government backed the Voice.

All the major religious groups said they adhered to its message.

No matter where you turned, there was a pointed message about what was ‘the right thing to do’.

It was obvious that the Yes case was not the campaign disadvantaged politically, financially and corporately, but the No case. As such, the Yes campaign lost the status it was counting on – namely, the role of the underdog.

The No case was a largely grassroots one, with little financial backing. It was a grossly unequal fight, a David versus Goliath scenario, in which David pulled off a remarkable victory.

Positives from a Failed Referendum

What positives can come out of a referendum that has been fraught with so much division and verbal abuse?

One clear positive is that the dire statistics, particularly from remote Aboriginal communities, are now at the forefront of people’s minds. It is impossible to see how “the racism of low expectations”, as Senator Jacinta Price puts it, can remain the status quo.

There is much hope for the future. Speaking at the post-referendum press conference, Price was asked about the future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait policy going forward, and whether it was time for significant change. She responded:

“I think it’s time for a new era in Indigenous policy and in the Indigenous narrative.

“We have to step away from grievance. Attempting to bring about change through grievance has evidently got us nowhere.”

“It’s time to accept that we are all part of the fabric of this nation.”

“Certainly, for those who have been there for decades, I think it is time to recognise that if you haven’t been able to bring about the outcomes that you have seemly worked for, then, obviously, it has not worked. It is time for a change. It is time to apply more accountability to those who are responsible for lives of our most marginalised.

“And certainly myself and my colleague Kerrynne Liddle are absolutely up for that work going forward.

“And no more, again, can we continue to listen to academics and activists from the inner cities who think that they know better for Indigenous Australians, particularly in remote communities.”

 

Given that essentially 60% of the population has endorsed the way Senator Price is coming at the problems and offering solutions, it will be increasingly difficult for her voice in Parliament to be ignored.

Will there now be ears in Canberra? Only time will tell.

Hope for the Future of Australia

Equality is deeply embedded in Australian society. This cultural understanding has been gifted to Australians due to the idea that every person is made in the image of God (Gen 1:26–27), and is therefore equal in dignity, value and worth. Further, all should be viewed as equal under God’s common law (Rom 3:19).

The message that all should be viewed as equal under the same Constitution appears to have hit home with the majority.

Our inherent belief in equality, combined with Australia’s “tall poppy syndrome” in which we tend to cut others down to our level, meant that the Yes case appeared insincere, if not outright hypocritical.

Consequently, the most grassroots cause won.

There is now hope that with a renewed emphasis on the practical measures needed to improve the lives of Australia’s most marginalised, better policies may now achieve better results.

Still, politics alone cannot solve all the issues.

Ultimately, the gospel of Jesus the Messiah is the ultimate answer for every Australian. This message alone can cause the inner transformation that can lead communities to be changed for the better.

The Church is a grassroots movement. It didn’t begin with the powerful political class, nor with the educated religious scholars, but with ordinary fishermen and tax collectors.

The Church was, and always will be, the underdog.

It would appear God desires it that way. He is the God who delights in choosing what is foolish in the eyes of the world (1 Cor 1:26–29).

Is now the time for grassroots politics and gospel transformation to sweep across our nation once more — including amongst the ‘forgotten people’ in remote and regional areas?

If I’m reading the mood of the nation correctly, Australia is ripe for such a transformation.

To borrow the PM’s words, “If not now, when?”

___

Image via Fair Australia/X.

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2 Comments

  1. Countess Antonia Maria Violetta Scrivanich 18 October 2023 at 10:14 am - Reply

    Bess Price exposed the corruption and nepotism by the Aboriginals who control the money and positions of power which have disadvantaged and let her down , her daughter and many other Indigenous Australians who continue to suffer the evils of violence, addiction, gambling and lack of opportunity despite billions allocated. It takes enormous courage to expose these injustices by their own people despite death treats. You are a heroine !

  2. Warwick Marsh 19 October 2023 at 11:28 am - Reply

    Great article!!!!!!!!!

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