On Saturday, Australia had a unique opportunity to acknowledge the 65,000-year history of our First Nations people and to give them a say in matters that affect them.
We let that opportunity slip and we have let our First Nations people down. For all of us at RE-Alliance, the result has been deeply disappointing.
However, the referendum showed there is a strong and growing movement of support for First Nations justice across the country. Now, we need to come together, and redouble our efforts and our commitments to First Nations justice.
We saw parts of the ‘No’ campaign resort to racism, and it is important to acknowledge the harm and hurt this has caused First Nations people and communities. As Larissa Baldwin-Roberts, Widjabul Wia-bul woman and CEO at GetUp states: “The divisive ‘No’ campaign was filled with confusion, lies, hatred and racism… importing vile tactics that undermined and harmed our democracy and our communities.”
It is deeply concerning that a referendum proposition, which should always have been about the Uluru Statement’s generous offer to walk alongside Aboriginal people, was manipulated to create confusion and division. The way our national debate was undermined for political gain starkly demonstrates the challenges we face as a country as we discuss other vital issues – most notably, the energy transition.
Going forward, we will continue to see fear and division deployed as tactics to stand in the way of change. We are stronger together and must continue to stand up to those that seek to divide us.
Despite the results, the referendum showed that millions of Australians voted for change, and thousands of people volunteered for the first time in the ‘Yes’ campaign. We also do not assume that those who voted ‘No’ do not at the same time support better outcomes for First Nations Australians. For generations, First Nations communities have fought tirelessly for justice, and it’s because of their decades of action that momentum for change has been growing.
While each of us can reflect on the lessons we can learn from the referendum, the importance of showing up as allies for First Nations justice is stronger than ever. At RE-Alliance, we reaffirm our commitment to First Nations justice. We will continue supporting campaigns for change that realise the aspirations First Nations communities have been fighting for for decades.
Now is not the time to stop. Rather, it is the time to strengthen our efforts towards reconciliation. Bhiamie Wilson, Euahlayi man and Director, Country Needs People writes, “With concerted effort, and sympathetic yet radical activism, October 14 may be remembered as the firestorm that tore through our nation, but from which green shoots of opportunity sprung.”
We are sorry and our hearts are with our First Nations people, families and communities. RE-Alliance reaffirms our commitment to continue working together for a fairer future.