A bi-partisan committee should be established to devise a long-term plan to address the crisis in remote communities.
Many people who voted No in this referendum wanted to vote Yes.
They didn’t because they didn’t like the mode or the wording of the proposed change to the constitution or they wanted more information that wasn’t forthcoming.
They didn’t vote No because they think everything is fine or because they don’t want to help Aboriginal people or because they are racist.
The problem with this referendum is the same problem that impedes our intentions to close the gap.
In fact it’s the biggest impediment to our progress as a country.
That impediment is the refusal of rich Australians in small parts of the country to listen to what people actually want.
The results of the referendum when broken down by electorate show it starkly.
The voice had strongest support in Australia’s wealthiest suburbs closest to the CBDs of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and of course in the enclave of Canberra which again proved how disconnected it is from the mainstream.
The problem we have with closing the gap is not a lack of voices, it’s a lack of ears. Canberra doesn’t need another voice.
It needs to listen to what it’s being told by the people who are affected and have the courage to take the action they ask for without being swayed by the moralising and handwringing of the small number of Yes seats.
The Yes seats need to stop believing that they alone know best and telling us how to fix things and actually start to listen to the rest of the country.
In defeat Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong last night pivoted in their rhetoric to now acknowledge that people on both sides were just as committed to the on-going welfare of disadvantaged indigenous Australians.
“No one voted against closing the gap. No one campaigned against listening,” Wong said, in spite of the barrage pre-referendum messaging to the contrary by the Yes campaign.
This was also in stark contrast to the Prime Minister’s referendum-eve appeal to vote out of “kindness”, the implication being No voters were unkind to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.
As Senator Jacinta Nampajinpa Price said last night:
“We are absolutely not a racist country. We are one of the, if not the, greatest nations on the face of the earth. And it’s time for Australians to believe that once again.”
She called for an end to the politics of “grievance”.
Practical results need to begin with a clear eyed assessment of where we are and what has worked and what has failed.
These might include such measures as a Royal Commission into the sexual abuse of children in indigenous communities and to an audit of indigenous bodies which collectively receive billions of dollars per year in taxpayers’ money.
Despite voice architect Noel Pearson claiming there was “no plan B”, it was clear last night both the government and opposition were determined to work together on finding solutions to indigenous disadvantage – and this is a good thing.
There’s no short-term fix. But a bi-partisan committee should be established to devise a long-term plan to address the housing, employment and education crisis in remote communities.
The priorities former Prime Minister Tony Abbott always advocates should be the focus: getting kids to school, adults to work and stopping the abuse of girls and women should be the focus of such a bi-partisan committee.
Somehow our elites thought a treaty, reparations and a form of indigenous sovereignty as outlined in the Uluru Statement from the Heart would achieve better outcomes.
Australians have not rejected the pursuit of better outcomes but they have rejected the idea that they are illegitimate citizens of Australia and that constitutional indigenous separatism is necessary.
Australians also wanted to vote for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders but sadly Albanese and the indigenous elite tied it to the imposition of a new chapter in the constitution providing ill-defined powers with unknown legal consequences.
But with more than 60 per cent of the nation attracted to the positive vision for black and white Australians to walk together outlined by Price and her colleague Warren Nyunggai Mundine, what has been seen as a divisive episode may turn out to be more uniting than any of us dreamt.
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