Saturday, October 21, 2023

When one door closes, a window opens – moving on from another failed referendum

Looking forward from the failed referendum on The Voice to Parliament, everyone seems to be talking about how to find some positives after the result. It’s definitely time for a lot of thinking and rethinking. As I digest the result, I’m thinking about what it all means. There's quite a bit to say and it’s definitely time for thoughtful length rather than the slogans and catch phrases we’ve endured over the last few months. Despite the setback, lots of change is still happening. From my personal experience working alongside the community languages activists for some 15 years as they laboured to revive and maintain their First Nations languages there are many specific examples of positive changes. I can't see a failed referendum stopping their work. Their positive and practical spirit had a deep impact on me. These were people building an Australia for the future, drawing on the best parts of the past and overcoming the worst. They were some of the most impressive people I have ever met. I still remain close to many of them and I will remember them to my dying day.

Change at the level of Parliament and the Constitution seems – as has almost always been the case – to be too hard for Australians. The problem is that whenever any change to deal with the complexities of the modern world is proposed, big money is unleashed to protect power and privilege. As Bob Dylan observed money doesn't talk, it swears.’ On top of those who weren't convinced of the merits of the proposal anyway, I suppose the outcome is not that surprising.

Shortage of knowledge and bullshit detectors
Too many Australians didn't have the knowledge of Australian history, of Indigenous communities or of how Government works. More importantly they didn't have enough of the learned critical skills to see through the expensive marketing campaigns, so they ended up marketing victims. It used to be said that Australians had an inbuilt bullshit detector, but that itself is the biggest piece of bullshit I've heard.

Mixed interpretations from The Treaty of Waitangi on display in Te Papa Tongarewa, the national museum of New Zealand in Wellington, show how in these sort of matters messaging is critical. Will the failure of the Voice to Parliament referendum reinforce calls for a treaty instead? It involves a much longer timeframe but has potentially far more wide-reaching implications.

Yet, despite this, lots of change is still happening. From my personal experience there are many specific examples of positive change, quite a few which come down to the community languages organisations, at both local level with dual naming, but also nationally through the work of First Languages Australia.