Um—sheepishly, emphatically—YES!

Um—sheepishly, emphatically—YES!

After much anticipation, Anthony Albanese announced earlier this week that on October 14, I’ll be asked to vote on whether the traditional owners of the lands now called Australia are recognised in our nation’s constitution and be granted a voice to affect and shape their future.

I feel a little bit embarrassed that I’m being asked at all.

Me—a white, middle-class, heterosexual, city-dweller. 

Me—enjoying privilege beyond my comprehension.

I’m being asked whether this country’s most dispossessed, institutionally discriminated members might be granted an entry-level of agency. A voice. On matters that affect them.

Me—whose children don’t need to wonder whether they’ll have an educational future.

Me—who has never needed to wonder where I’d hide my girls if someone sought to steal them.

And me, who is more than thirteen times less likely to be incarcerated than Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.

Yep, I feel sheepish. Sheepish that 235 years later, we may be finally getting somewhere towards acknowledging the lie upon which this country’s first white settlement was founded. 

And yet I’m being asked to help decide. 

It is a vote for people who have been ignored and silenced. Who have had children and language stolen, been incarcerated on reserves, recriminated and marginalised, abused, and then mocked for the abuse wrought upon them are asking whether they can comment on the decisions affecting them. 

It’s a modest ask. And it makes me feel sick that the First Nations people – the once 100% now 3.8% due to massacres, genocide and generational disadvantage – have to tentatively raise their hands and hearts to say, ‘would we be able to have a voice about our future?’

The will of some of us to dismiss the question out of ignorance demonstrates how deeply we’re drowning in privilege. How miserly we are to mete out compassion. And how fearful we are that our backyard – which didn’t belong to us in the first place – might be endangered. 

For the record, someone else getting to have a voice doesn’t remove yours.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’. I see that eternally, but in my lifetime, in my country, I’ve only seen sniffs and glimpses at best. While this isn’t the moment, it’s certainly a moment. Another beginning.

As cold as it sounds, we’re voting on whether indigenous people should have a voice in shaping their destiny, and it’s an advisory body. The government can block their ears and close their eyes to the inequities endured by First Nations peoples. Heck, we’ve been doing it for centuries. 

But maybe—just maybe—genuine acknowledgement, recognition and agency move the dial a little more. Maybe it reflects a public reckoning of sorts.

One of my favourite sayings is that ‘the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the next best time is today’. Contextually, the best time to acknowledge the storied history of these lands and the never-ceded sovereignty of its people over them is 235 years ago, and the next best time is today. Or October 14, 2023.

For those concerned that it does not go far enough, don’t tap out. Vote ‘yes’ to continuing this agonisingly slow journey together. 

For those concerned by the unknown, let love and compassion (and a willingness to find out) overwhelm fear and scepticism. Don’t sing an anthem of the ignorant; join a chorus of justice for the next chapters of our nation’s history.

I am not naive enough to believe a referendum will solve all problems. It won’t. But it can open the door to agency, voice, listening, recognition, and acknowledgement. A much-delayed start.

So, emphatically, with certainty overriding the unknown and love overriding fear, yes.

Heck, yes.