Sometime in 2023, all Australians will be asked to vote in a referendum to enshrine a First Nations Voice to parliament in our national constitution. This referendum represents a hopeful turning point for our nation — but in order for it to be successful, we need everyone involved in the conversation, listening and learning.
Together, Yes is a nation-wide movement to start conversations around supporting a YES vote, following our tried and tested ‘kitchen table conversations’ model.
To launch the Together, Yes campaign, the Victorian Women’s Trust hosted a panel discussion with proud Yiman and Gangulu woman Kara Keys (From the Heart); and Jon Faine AM (journalist, author and former ABC broadcaster) around what the Voice is, how we got here, and actions we can all take to unite friends, family and community behind the Voice.
Mary Crooks: Welcome, everyone, as you’re streaming on into this special event. We will give a minute or so until you all are in attendance and able to listen. Just give us another minute or so and we will take it away then. Thank you.
Jon Faine: You could sing a song, Mary.
Mary Crooks: Not with this head cold. I could sing the Carlton theme song.
Jon Faine: Kara, it will have to be you, it certainly won’t be me
Kara Keys: I am not known for my singing.
Mary Crooks: She is a better dancer, I think.
Mary Crooks: Welcome everybody to this very special webinar today. I would like to begin by Acknowledgement of Country. Jon Faine and I are meeting on the Wurundjeri lands of the Kulin Nation. Kara Keys is on Yagarra lands. We would like to pay our respects to elders, past and present and we certainly, at the VWT accept the gracious invitation that is contained in the Uluru Statement From the Heart to join Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples in journeying for a better world. Let’s begin.
It is a very special event today. It is the launching – official launching of our Together, Yes campaign. We feel privileged to be at the service of the yes alliance, the Indigenous-led important alliance that will help carry the constitutional referendum later this year. First up, our third panelist, Nadina Brockhurst has had to withdraw for work commitments. We have rejigged the format and what it means, it would have been great having Nadina but it means we have more time with Kara and Jon. I think you will find every bit of it worthwhile.
I would like to take it to Kara for some crucial background around the campaign of the Yes Alliance, then to Jon, then I would like Jon and Kara to converse with one another on aspects of the campaign, perhaps with me involved. Then we would like to give you an opportunity as the audience to throw some questions and then I would like to wrap up with the specific call to action that goes with the Together, Yes campaign.
Let me introduce our two panellists firstly. In my view launching our Together, Yes campaign we have two of the best for this purpose. We have Kara Keys, a proud first nation woman, a descendant of the Yiman and Gangulu peoples of central Queensland. Kara has been on the board of the super outfit C-Bus, United, Super, the chair of the people culture and remuneration committee until 2021. Chair of ‘women in super’ elected 2020. She is currently the Deputy campaign director of the Yes campaign alliance. Welcome, Kara. We have been working with Kara since late October 2022 in the first collaboration laboratory that was organised From the Heart people.
Kara, at a glance back then, I saw she brings impressive strategic campaign skill to the yes alliance. It has been an absolute privilege to meet Kara back in October and to have worked with her since.
Jon Faine. Jon practised law eons ago in commercial litigation and as a legal aid and human rights advocate. He joined the ABC in 1989 to host the ‘Law Report’ on Radio National after which he hosted ‘The Agenda’ , setting morning sessions on ABC radio, 774 for over 20 years. He’s currently a vice chancellor fellow at the University of Melbourne for 22/23. He is attached to the law school, he has a roving commission across the whole university. Welcome to you, Jon.
Jon Faine: Thank you, Mary.
Mary Crooks: Let’s begin with some questions. Kara, I have announced you as the Deputy campaign director of the Yes Alliance. I think it is important for our crew today, our audience to hear straight from the horse’s mouth some crucial background material relating to the architecture and the principles and the goals of the Yes Alliance.
Before we get right into the architecture, I would love to ask you a more personal question: you stand on the shoulders of giants, Indigenous women and men, the ones who worked tirelessly for the resounding yes vote in ’67 and the ones who have been working the last 56 years and over the last couple of decades, especially, to get to this point, this defining moment of potentially recognition in the Australian constitution in 2023. What does it mean to you, Kara, what does it mean to you to be an energetic campaigner in 2023?
Kara Keys: Thanks, Mary. I think from a personal perspective, it’s the realisation of aspirations that have been held over many generations of my forebearers, my aunties, grand mothers and my uncle. That realisation is a moment that we have an opportunity in this country right now to make some of the most substantive change that we have seen, potentially since the ’67 referendum. I think it’s quite momentous in the sense that, like you said, there’s a long history to this and we are now – this has been a long political discussion.
You can go back to the 1988 Barunga statement which called for constitutional recognition. We have gone through decades long of conversation about this change that has culminated in what is now known as the Uluru Statement From the Heart for voice, treaty and truth.
We are now in a position where it is a when, not an if. We are going to a referendum this year and I think it is an absolute honour to be part of a campaign and to be working with the community on this campaign. And I think, from a really deeply personal space, one of the first campaigns that I ran many, many moons ago was the Queensland stolen wages campaign to return the wages to our elders in the Queensland community that were stolen from them when they were forced into slave-like labour and had to ask for their own money and then a lot of them never got that money.
You’d think that – I am getting chills thinking about working with all those old people all those years ago and that could happen to them because they didn’t have a voice, because they didn’t have their rightful place recognised in the constitution. So I think back to those early days of doing the work that I’ve done and even some of the more contemporary work that I’ve done and I know that this is going to make a practical difference in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ lives and that’s the thing that gets me up in the morning, making sure that we don’t have another generation of elders who have been treated appallingly in this system by governments of both stripes, to be frank.
We need to make change and it needs to be practical change and this is our opportunity to really realise that aspiration of our forebearers.
Mary Crooks: Fantastic. Kara, you mentioned the Uluru Statement From the Heart and if people haven’t read it yet, then it’s essential first step reading.
Take us back a little bit because I think one of the things missing in the media so far, is a really good, fair-minded treatment of the rigour, the authenticity, the cultural authority and the consensus that culminated in the Uluru Statement and before that, the Indigenous national convention. Would you mind giving us a little bit of a take on the process that led itself to the Uluru Statement From the Heart?
Kara Keys: Sure. As I said, this conversation has been happening for decades in this country and the realisation of the Uluru Statement in itself was quite a significant process and was crafted and curated in a very deliberate way, so that the Uluru Statement and the call for voice, treaty, truth was seeded in cultural authority.
There were a range of different dialogues that happened across the country, each dialogue was structured in a way that required it to have 60% traditional owners – 60%, so over the majority of people that participated in each dialogue around the country, that then culminated in the convention at Uluru, had to have 60% of traditional owners and elders, 20% representation from Aboriginal organisations and 20% were individuals drawn from like, say the stolen generations or youth contingents, shout out to Samara Jose who is a part of our campaign and is amazing.
Some people might have seen her on ABC News Breakfast last week. She is really deadly.
That was the composition.
I’m not a traditional owner. At the time, I was working for a very large institutional organisation and I wasn’t invited because the authenticity of the make-up of those dialogues had to be structured in a way that it wasn’t elitist, it wasn’t the bureaucrats and the people like myself who were in positional power within organisations, it had to be really authentic. That’s the real strength of the structure that led to the Uluru Statement.
The other interesting thing that I think that really gives a cultural authority and validation to the process, is that when they had regional dialogues, a series of regional dialogues, no-one else was given the minutes or the ideas or the things that came out of each regional dialogue and that was done really deliberately to stop group think. Each regional dialogue actually they were the only ones that got the minutes of their meeting and then that was put to the Uluru convention as a summary, not a prescriptive statement of what is going to happen.
It was put in there as a summary and then the discussion happened between the 23rd and 26th of May. There were about 250 people at the Uluru Convention, the make-up was still the same, the 60/20/20 at the Uluru Convention.
I know it is out there in the media that there was a small amount of people who walked out, there was a small amount of people who are saying the Uluru Statement has no cultural authenticity or authority. If you look at the process and how deliberate it was, that is just not true.
Mary Crooks: Kara, thank you. It is a really important background. Can I move onto you giving us a thumbnail sketch of the architecture of the campaign before we move onto the kind of principles that are going to underpin it? Tell us a little bit about the architecture.
Kara Keys: Sure. There are a couple of important points to set some context about the architecture of the campaign. This is not a normal political campaign. This is not a 51/49 situation. This is not where one political party says “That seat there has a really small margin so we will put all our resources in that” and try and change the colour of the seat. This is a much bigger thing. This is every single electorate, in every single state and every single territory and it is going to take a double majority to win this and that is the real difference, right, like I said it is not a 51/49. It is 50 or over percent of every single Australian voting yes and then 50% of each state and territory. We need to be out everywhere in every community that we possibly can.
The other part of the campaign is that not one individual or organisation is going to win this by themselves. It has to be a collective effort and it has to be community-driven. The campaign architecture is what we call distributed network campaigning, which means that we will have everybody from organisations like the Victorian Women’s Trust and all of you people who will be having conversations in your community, right through to unions, corporates, the finance sector, everybody pulling together to get the conversations out in the community, get the understanding out in the community and everybody saying the same thing but a little bit differently to the people that we’re talking to. You say it again and again and again and that’s how we win this campaign.
What we’re doing, we were From the Heart. We are now, because we launched last week, sort of switched into the Yes Campaign Alliance and we will be coordinating this massive national distributed network campaign which is really just facilitating and assisting and scaffolding, right, what you want to do in your communities.
Mary Crooks: OK. So the two key words – three key words, the Yes Alliance. Kara, take us through, because last October when From the Heart organised the first collaboration laboratory, there was an immediate sense of how important it was to define the values that would underpin the Yes Alliance and you promulgated those in a finessed version in Adelaide last week.
Can you just take us through the headline principles, because I think it’s very important for our audience to understand that the Yes Alliance, when they go low, the Yes Alliance is going to go high and stay high. Could you take us through the headline principles?
Kara Keys: Absolutely. We did put a lot of work into this in October last year. Understanding that there are many different people and organisations and many different parts of the community that we’re going to need to talk to.
We need to really have some principles around how we’re going to operate as a campaign and how we’re going to operate as an alliance.
I guess the headline principles – I will take you through them and I won’t read the full detail of them – but the first one is be in solidarity, come together for a common agreed purpose. We are all here to win. Let’s be in solidarity with each other and don’t compete. There is no need for competition. We’re all in it together and it is going to take all of us to win.
The second one is on honour culture. This is a first nations-led campaign. We will operate in cultural ways with you and with each other but it’s about listening and respecting and understanding place and practice of that from a campaign perspective.
The interesting thing about those two principles, if you don’t mind, Mary, is that we are only 3% of the population. We need your solidarity. The 98% actually have to lean in and bring this home for us in a framework that is led by first nations people. You have permission to do this work because we need you. We need a yes and we will do it in a culturally appropriate way.
The third principle is about contesting compassionately and creatively. So we contest the ideas, people can have different perspectives and opinions but we contest the ideas, not the people.
We connect to the community. That is a really, really important thing for this campaign. This campaign is not going to be won by politicians, it is going to be won by the people. It’s an invitation to the people, the Uluru Statement is an invitation to the people of Australia, not the politicians. We have so many diverse communities that we need to work with, so we will connect and amplify the voices across our community who support the campaign.
Lastly, and this is a really important one, is ensuring safety. That is emotional safety, psychological safety, our campaign is based on do no harm – do no harm in this campaign. Things might get a bit hectic, we know the other side can be pretty nasty but we as a campaign will operate with respect and ensuring safety of those who work with us and work together.
Then, because this is a big moment for the country — importantly, is we are going to form lasting connections, what a unifying moment this is going to be for our country and we build the relationships and we operate in a space that we have longevity in mind because the voice is the first part of the Uluru Statement.
There will be more work to do. There will be more work to do. It won’t just be write “yes” on referendum day and everybody walks away into the sunset. There is always going to be more work to do so let’s build our relationships with that in mind.
Mary Crooks: Kara, thank you and we will come back to some of those matters in the discussion. That is a great overview of the process to date. I think it’s wonderful to hear you because I think from before Christmas until now, there has been a sense across a lot of people that was anything happening?
There was a lot of noise being created and I think what you have done is to make it very clear that now things are up and away, big time from now on. Thank you.
To Jon. I mentioned before you have had a varied career in the law and broadcasting and so on, specialising –
Jon Faine: Untidy is one way to describe it.
Mary Crooks: The point is that you have specialised in very complex matters of public policy, of strategy, legal issues, cultural clashes, economic debates. You have not been afraid to take a backwards step.
I think as far as I have been listening to you, you have essentially tried to stay with the respect agenda the whole way. So many fields of interest. With this in mind, I know very well that you will have already applied yourself, your fine mind to the debates that have been emerging, that are running counter to the Yes Alliance, the critiques for want of a word around the voice.
Kara has given us an outline of the Yes Campaign that is now underway, but the ‘no’ critiques have been aired for months and have been a bit dispiriting to a lot of people and a bit confusing. Understanding that some of the ‘no’ critiques come from a considered point of view, that people rightly are raising issues and so on.
I would love you to focus now, if I tell you what I think are some of the themes coming through before the Yes Alliance was launched and let the audience see how someone like yourself has been processing these kinds of arguments. I think it would help, through what has become a confusing landscape, so let’s start with: we need more detail.
Jon Faine: The argument for detail in my view, is designed to try to obfuscate, to confuse people. There is no need for detail at this stage, that comes after you have got to an in principle agreement that you want to actually do this thing that you believe in.
What we’re being asked to do is to make an unprincipled declaration, to accept the invitation that Kara has just explained to us, and has so generously been extended to us after such an exhaustive process.
This isn’t something that has just been a thought bubble that has come up overnight from a bunch of people sitting around saying “What can we do?” It has taken generations.
You can go back as far as you like in Australian history and there have been black and white people saying there’s something wrong in our relationship, ever since white people arrived here.
When you compare our post colonial lag to New Zealand or Canada, comparable settlements in the modern era, there’s something wrong on this continent. We haven’t done it how it is supposed to have been done. Ever since we have been trying to catch up. Now the invitation has been extended after this exhaustive and all encompassing process that’s been going on for over a decade, formally and informally.
I sometimes question their sincerity and their bona fide, and I say “What have you done?” If you’re so concerned about Closing the Gap or Indigenous wellbeing or human rights, where is your track record? If you don’t have one, I question your bona fides.
You are asking me to play nice, so I am. It is fair to say, if someone asks “Where is the detail?” The response is why do you need detail on something that is being asked to be established in principle? I think the Prime Minister put it really well. The Attorney-General put it really well. Noel Pearson put it really well, it has been put really well by all sorts of actors on both sides, when you establish in the constitution that the Commonwealth will be responsible for defence, you don’t have to go through and say how many soldiers and how many air pilots there will be or how many ships are you going to build and how that process is going to be carried through.
You establish in principle that it is not the states who are responsible for defence, it is the Commonwealth collectively and that is where we’re at with this.
We are being asked to make an in principle decision and the process, as Kara so articulately said a moment ago, the process is ongoing. This is the starting point. If we get there, and I really sincerely hope, impatiently that we will, once we get there, there is another process, in fact probably multiple processes that will take place to fill in some of those gaps. Lots of people have got lots of ideas on what that detail is going to be, but it would pre-empt it to start going down that path now.
What is the point of asking for detail? I think some of those people just want to muddy the waters because, as they did with same sex marriage, many of the same actors, as they did on the Republic debate, the same actors. They don’t want things to change and what this fundamentally is about is change and by goodness it is overdue.
Mary Crooks: Thank you, Jon. This is something that I might ask Kara to address later too but in short, Jon, will the voice make a difference in terms of your understanding of our political culture? Will it make a palpable material difference?
Jon Faine: Absolutely, and if anybody has been involved at any level, as a service provider, as a professional, as a tourist, as a visitor, at any level, if you’ve been to remote Indigenous communities, you don’t need to be reminded that things have to change.
You don’t need to be reminded that there are so many communities where the status quo has not delivered. You cannot defend the way we’ve been doing it. It is indefensible.
So the practical difference comes from doing it differently and I could give you countless examples where you can visit a remote community – I won’t single out any individual ones because that will become contested – but you can visit a community, you can see a project, whether it is a construction project, infrastructure, health, law, you name every area of service delivery and find out what it cost, how inefficiently sometimes it was delivered, how much waste there has been, how there was no consultation with local people about how to integrate their needs and their wishes into what was being delivered and you go “How can we keep doing this?” We can’t.
The idea of the voice is to say if you’re going to continue to deliver services, it can’t continue the way it used to, it has to be done in a way that includes local people, hears from them, one size doesn’t fit all. Bureaucrats in Canberra or capital cities can’t work out what is needed for water, sanitation, for health and whatever else, it has to be done with people, not to people.
Mary Crooks: Jon, is it discriminatory?
Jon Faine: No, it is to end discrimination. We have had 200 plus years of discrimination. We don’t need to start explaining what that is now, take it from anyone who has been involved.
You know how discriminatory it has been. This is to work a process into place, to end that discrimination. We need to hear from the people, nothing about us without us, you need to hear from those people in order to know what’s needed to end the processes that have been so discriminatory, they have got us to where we are today.
Mary Crooks: I hear people saying – in the Murdoch press in particular – no surprise there, I guess – but this is not justified as a form of special treatment for one group of people as distinct from others in our society with equally compelling needs. Is there a special treatment argument?
Jon Faine: Firstly, there is a great song about Special Treatment but this is not special treatment and apart from which, the unique role of Australia’s first nations people, as in Canada, as in New Zealand, must be recognised and it’s different to the relationship that any other people have to the land and it has to be recognised in the constitution in order to deal with the consequences of settlement, post colonial arrival in Australia.
Yes, lots of other families, mine, probably yours, Mary, and probably most of the the people who are watching, we all have stories but they’re not the same, they’re not in the same ballpark and that has to be recognised in the constitution and it has to be done in the constitution, not by legislation, so it can’t be undone somewhere down the track.
Mary Crooks: Two more questions before we move into some general discussion. It will cost heaps of dough.
Jon Faine: It is costing heaps of money now and we are not getting enough bang for the buck. This is about making sure – and it won’t cost a lot to establish the framework but the return on that investment will be phenomenal once that settles down and you get the efficiencies that everyone complains we miss out on.
There’s rooms full of reports by auditors general, state and Federal, by ombudsman from every different jurisdiction, inquiries and reports and scandals along the way because this is what has been missing, this opportunity to include and integrate the voice at the very foundational level of how services are delivered to Indigenous Australians.
This is about making sure you get much better returns for what’s being spent and the amount that will be spent maintaining it is fractional, it’s small change, it’s nothing.
Mary Crooks: Jon, Kara showed that the Yes Alliance is assuming this can be a unifying force, this campaign, and I believe that too. I hear people saying “This is very divisive”.
Jon Faine: It’s like poking a stick in an ants nest and saying “The ants seem to be upset, I wonder what is going on”, if you didn’t poke the stick in, they wouldn’t have been agitated.
It is exactly the same with same sex marriage and so on, you can make these things divisive if you are trying to stop progress but we’re not. We want progress. It need not be divisive.
To your comment earlier on and Kara touched on this as well, yes, there has been a remarkable silence from the Yes case until now. I know that has made people anxious but I ask you to look at it this way. Firstly, all the published polls show there is somewhere between 55-60% support, even before the Yes case has been announced. That is after the No case has had clear air.
Whether it’s strategic or whether it’s been accidental, to let them ventilate the No case and let it run, to me I don’t think it’s done any harm at all. In fact, I think it will help in the long run because the way the media works, the media now have ventilated all the No arguments, they don’t want to keep repeating the same story because that’s – nobody’s interested in that, no-one buys a newspaper or watches a TV program, listens to a radio discussion when it’s something they have already heard before.
The Yes case will be new, it will be fresh and it will dominate the agenda. The No case will be stale, tired, repetitious and run out of puff. My prediction, and I’m happy to be measured according to this, my prediction is this will be overwhelmingly supported by Australians once they understand and they will understand because of the work that you, the Victorian Women’s Trust and everybody else is doing.
Once they understand the beauty, the artful way in which this has been put together and it will overwhelmingly be supported and in the same way as you can ask those opponents of same sex marriage today, you can say “What was all that about?” They will be on the wrong side of history on this one as well.
Mary Crooks: Kara and Jon together, before we move into some questions from our audience, do you have a question or a comment directly to one another?
Kara, I might ask you to go first.
Kara Keys: I think it’s flattering that you thought it was strategic that we let the No case ventilate, we’re calling it the summer of No – but I think you are right, it has panned out that they have played all their cards now, so where do they go with this?
From the No case, it is really easy to be loud on the platforms that you have in the media. What we have had to do since the election of the Albanese government and the realisation of the when not if, is actually set up an entire national campaign infrastructure and that doesn’t take overnight, that is not getting your spot on Sky News or in The Australian and just yelling “No”. That takes people power.
We launched the campaign last week, the vibe in the room was amazing. We had everyone from the Blue Mountains, reconciliation action community group, through to corporations and unions and NGOs and organisations like the Women’s Trust and, to be honest, we did that with about eight people on our team.
We have set up an entire board so we can fund raise, both from corporates and philanthropy and the community. We have stood up the entire campaign infrastructure. While the No campaign have been out there clutching pearls and hyperventilating about all of the issues that you have very, very wonderfully addressed, Jon, and thank you for that, we have actually been doing the work.
We have been having the conversations in the community, we have been setting up the campaign alliance, working hard at planning in labs and we are ready to go. We know we’ve got the goods over the Yes campaign because we have got the community on our side. You’re right. It hasn’t been a contested space and we still have this 60% support
Jon Faine: My concern is though about what you’re doing to reach some of the hard to reach pockets in the community. When I go to the dentist, the dentist says to me “You’re doing well on these bits but you are missing all the bits up the back that are hard to reach”, how are you getting through to recently arrived ethnic communities, non-English speaking people who don’t consume mainstream media, people who are disconnected from some of the networks that you have so ably assembled.
How do we reach so that this is really all encompassing, so the result is unarguably positive and overwhelming. How do we reach into those pockets?
Kara Keys: We do have a dedicated multicultural strategy that we are working with key partners on, at a national level through the federation of ethnic councils, right through to the state-based multicultural commissions who have the deep relationships in communities.
We are also conducting a lot of community-based research that would have different messages and different ways to talk about this than, say, you would a white Australian surfer bloke.
These are different messages, they are different ways to talk about it.
We have a research program, we are bringing on board multicultural organisers to the campaign, so the campaign is structured in a way that there is a state-based coordinator and a range of different organisers in each state to fit with the conversations that we need to have in the community.
The other hard to reach bit, and this is where the alliance really comes to the fore and the organisations we’re working with – like I am a Queenslander. I know my state. I know anything north of Gympie we are going to have problems and I don’t need to say why that is because you all know why that is? How do we reach the coal miner in Gladstone or Mackay, or the tourism operator in Far North Queensland? These are just – it is almost like different countries from the south-east corner to central Queensland to Far North Queensland. You have got to have people on the ground who are the trusted messages – the trusted messengers for those communities.
Jon Faine: One size doesn’t fit all for this campaign.
Kara Keys: Yes and it doesn’t surprise me but maybe some people it will surprise but the miners union is 200% supportive of this campaign and they have got members who are already saying “I want to go off the tools and I want to tour all the mining communities and talk to miners about this campaign and why they should be voting yes”. That is the beauty of the alliance. We get to those hard to get communities because we have got such a diverse range of people saying “Yes, we want to do this, let’s go”.
Mary Crooks: Kara, it is probably worth quickly putting into the mix, in terms of different communities, the Fred Hollows Foundation has brought together an alliance in its own right to support your campaign and they, at last count, had something like 130 charities signed up right now to deliver in all sorts of ways across communities. The momentum, I think, is just going to gain traction week after week.
We need to give the audience questions a little bit of a go if you don’t mind? I am going to try and ask as many as I can of the questions. I will throw them to one of you and ask you to just really concentrate on short and sharp responses so we can deal with most of the questions.
Kara Keys: Are they doing this on the chat?
Mary Crooks: Yes. Kara, the first question is “Those principles underlying the Yes Alliance, how do people get access to those?”
Kara Keys: I can send them to you, Mary.
Mary Crooks: OK. We will do our best. Happy to promulgate them. We will pick up on that one. Kara, what about – you had a great outline of the Uluru process, what about the sequence: voice, treaty, truth, just the importance of that three component parts, integrated?
Kara Keys: There was a sequence outlined by the Uluru dialogue. The idea of the sort of constitutional enshrinement of the voice and the recognition of the 65,000-plus years of continuous culture, that then dovetails into the creation of the Makarrata commission, which
I think is actually already being discussed in the halls and the use of the Makarrata commission in terms of truth-telling and treaty-making come after the constitutional enshrinement of the voice. Very deliberate process.
Mary Crooks: I think it is really important that the Uluru Statement, with reference to the Makarrata, the coming together after a struggle, talks about, as Jon said earlier, talks about establishing a truthful relationship in our country – that phrase, a truthful relationship.
Quickly to Jon and then to you, the water around sovereignty. I wonder if we can go to you, Jon quickly and then Kara? I don’t want to do that concept an injustice but just a really quick take on it to show that this is not an obstacle in the way of the detail around the referendum.
Jon Faine: If you want to start questioning sovereignty, you’re basically been an anarchist and everything falls apart.
If you query or undermine the foundation of everything that has been built and say “No, I don’t accept any of that” then you’re querying the authority of the parliament, the police, the courts, every single edifice, every part of service delivery.
If there are proponents for that who are anything other than absolutely on the fringe – and my view is that they are on the fringe, they are very good at attracting attention but it’s not got any mainstream support, anywhere from anyone in the Indigenous community, certainly not within the accepted structures of Australian parliaments and the whole structure of the rule of law.
If people want to throw the whole lot in the air and start all over again, OK, I am 66, I hope I live for a long time but I will not live to see progress on that, whereas we can see progress on what is being proposed from the voice, from the invitation. Otherwise, the alternative, if you want to go down that path, personally, I think it is incredibly destructive and completely unachievable.
Mary Crooks: Quick comment, Kara.
Kara Keys: I think we were provided very generously, myself included, a pathway, the right steps in the right sequence very generously provided by our elders and the Uluru Statement and I think that that is what I’m committed to.
Mary Crooks: A question from Nadia which I am going to shift Nadia into my wrap-up about people developing a sense of responsibility and ownership to be change-makers in the run-up to the referendum. Here is a question to both of you for a quick comment: “Should non-Indigenous people be able to have a say in the referendum on a voice, or should it only be limited to Indigenous peoples?” Kara.
Kara Keys: I absolutely think that non-Indigenous people should have a say. Why do I think that? Because we have been given the opportunity, as I keep saying, the generous opportunity from the Uluru Statement, that was an invitation to the Australian people. It wasn’t just an invitation to black fellas, or Indigenous peoples. It was an invitation to the Australian community and I think that invitation should be seized and when we win – when we get to a yes, what it is, from a non-Indigenous perspective, in my view, is a recognition that there is now a time to right the wrongs. That’s an important declaration from the Australian community.
Mary Crooks: Jon, quick comment.
Jon Faine: The reason why it has to include everybody, of every background is so that it has got consensus. It’s got the endorsement. People can’t say “No-one asked me” or “I never agreed to that” or “I was never consulted” which is what will happen if you limit it or restrict it to some groups.
Some people are saying the only people who should be allowed to vote on it are the descendants of the convicts on the first fleet. There are all sorts of nutty theories out there.
To not take a position on this is to say you’re happy with the status quo. You have to take a position on this. You have to say “Yes, we have made mistakes, time to acknowledge them, it is going to be difficult”. The truth that is part of the process, that is going to be harrowing because some of the truth is unbelievably distressing but we are big enough. We are confident enough surely in who we are now to come to grips with some of this stuff and it’s time, it is overdue.
Mary Crooks: Kara, a question to you from Angie. She says “I believe the Yes campaign is three groups with a shared history and objective, could Kara name the three groups?” I have a hunch that two are From the Heart, Australians for Indigenous Constitutional reform but not sure, can you confirm?
Kara Keys: Yes, I can confirm and this is the beauty about running a distributed network alliance.
The three groups who have been consistently involved in pushing this in and keeping it on the political agenda since the Uluru dialogues is the Uluru organisation dialogues, based out of the University of NSW and is led by aunty Pat Davidson and Professor Megan Davis.
The second group is – there is From the Heart, which has been led by Dean Parkin, who is the campaign director and then the third one is an organisation called Uphold and Recognise who has been led by a senior Aboriginal man called Sean Gordon.
The work of Uphold and Recognise has been to lobby the conservative side of politics, largely the Liberals, to get them on board with the campaign.
There have been three groups and now, as we move into what is the campaign proper, Uluru Dialogues are still doing a lot of work, absolutely, so is Uphold and Recognise, From the Heart has morphed into Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition and we are taking the responsibility of running the Yes alliance in terms of the field campaign in the community.
Mary Crooks: Carolyn asks “Can the Yes alliance provide the right words for example to board members which grounds their organisation, or with the grounds their organisation might be able to find to justify support for hearing the voice of first nations people”?
Is that something that people can go to the Yes alliance and get help on those sorts of questions?
Kara Keys: Yes, absolutely. We have a new website which is yes23.com.au/ So there is a range of materials that you can get from there. I saw someone ask in the chat before about getting the campaign collateral in a soft version. We’re happy for you to distribute that to everybody who wants it, Mary. You can also get it off our website.
There is also, depending on how much work you want to do, or how much assistance you need, myself and my lead organiser Emily Holme, I call out to Emily, can help you with the corporate strategy as well.
Mary Crooks: Lucinda asks – and this is the elephant in the room in a way – “How do you think the Yes alliance can get prominent first nation leaders who currently oppose or are expressing ambivalence into the campaign?”
Kara Keys: We are a broad church. Everybody is welcome to join. My hunch is that some people who are either sitting on the fence or being a little bit divisive, as Jon so eloquently explained before, I think, to be honest, as they see the momentum of this campaign, as they see the ground swell of support, I think the real pinch point is that this is not an esoteric debate any more, this is not an if, this is a when. That constitutional referendum train is well on its tracks and coming and I just wonder about how people will feel in about five months time.
Mary Crooks: Jon, a question to you from Meg “How do we answer the criticism that the referendum is a waste of money?” The subset of that “Why doesn’t the government -” and some politicians have put this “Just give Indigenous people a set number of seats in parliament and put money into increasing health, housing education”. Meg says “It is not my view but it has been put to me by a passionate treaty-first person”.
You have partly answered that it is not a waste of money but what about the question about the problem can be resolved by having Indigenous representation in parliament rather than enshrined in the constitution?
Jon Faine: That is not what we have been asked to do by the assembled and overwhelming consensus of Indigenous leaders in Australia. That’s a different idea. Whether it’s a good one or not, I’m not going to debate. It is not what we’ve been invited to accept. The invitation, through the long, laborious and very carefully mapped out process that Kara’s so beautifully explained to people, that is the invitation that’s on the table. There is no other.
That process is absolutely critical to the success of this particular question we’re being asked to resolve. You can’t just say we will ignore that process, we don’t care what the assembled overwhelming majority of Indigenous leaders came up with, we will just push that aside and substitute it with something that we have made up instead. You can’t do that, if you believe what you say, which is we want to give people a voice. This is their voice, saying here’s how we progress it.
To practice what we preach, we take that invitation and we build on it, we don’t reject it and say “No, we’ve got a better idea, you guys were all wrong, you don’t know what you’re talking about, here is something to put in its place”. That undermines the integrity of the process we’re being asked to embrace.
Mary Crooks: Having more Indigenous representatives in parliament, more of them doesn’t represent the constitution?
Jon Faine: We will see more Indigenous representatives in parliament organically. We have more now than ever and there will be more in future. You will see people like Kara, people politicised through this process saying I have had a taste and I want some more and my goodness that would be wonderful. We need it and we will benefit from it. That will come.
Mary Crooks: I think there is a couple of other questions but we really have run out of time. Those questions will be relevant for us in our own planning to consider and we would like to make sure that Kara and Emily and Dean at From the Heart get them as well.
I do need to wrap up. We have got five minutes. I just wanted to, before I thank people, I wanted to quickly talk about our call to action. I said at the outset that this webinar is the official launch of our Together, Yes campaign to be in the service of the Yes Alliance and our part in taking up that gracious invitation that’s there and the Uluru Statement, come journey with Indigenous people to a better world.
Our call to action that we have already started, is for every one of you, if possible, and for thousands of other Australians over the next several weeks, to become conversation hosts under the banner of Together, Yes and this is where you play a pivotal role as a citizen in the campaign because you can bring up to nine other people. You can bring the soft yeses and the soft noes, probably forget the hard noes for the moment but you can bring people who aren’t all of like mind with you who aren’t furiously going to be in agreement with you but if if they’re exposed in our two group sessions, which will be in May and June, if you can bring people who are exposed to some carefully curated, thought inducing material that helps you frame your perspective, change your point of view, flip the needle towards yes, then the conversation host is our key mechanism for that kind of process.
We provide conversation hosts, you don’t have to be a trained facilitator. People, especially women, are pretty good at conversation. They’re pretty good at bringing people together and our experience, applying our kitchen table conversation model over the last 20 years, is that women are really, really good at welcoming and bringing others into the process. They bring the men in, they bring the young ones in, they bring the recalcitrant uncle in and so on.
We will support at every turn our conversation hosts over the next six weeks or so, we will provide them with practical guidance on setting up their groups. We will provide them with things like the ground rules for discussion. We ultimately provide them with the session materials, which we’re currently in the process of developing.
In about two weeks time we will have a special password protected log-in on our website, www.together yes.com.au. A special password protected log-in for the conversation hosts because they are the ones who will historically be the ones who have led to the biggest ever first nation-wide conversation in this country about what is the most defining issue in our lifetime.
Our call to action, step up, don’t be afraid, become a conversation host under the banner of Together, Yes. We will support you and we will guarantee, our pledge to you is that you will have an incredibly rewarding experience as will everyone in your group. That is our call to action. We will bring people from different demographics into that.
The reason we are holding off the conversations until May is we’ve got work to do with our conversation hosts and we’ve got work to do in preparing those very special materials which sharpen our understanding and ability to connect with the issue. May is also the time, we want to hold the conversations, bring the chequered flag down because it is the anniversary of the Uluru Statement From the Heart and it’s also the anniversary of the 1967 referendum.
The symbolism of starting this nation-wide conversation in May is really powerful. In the meantime, we just urge you, from today and I know that already I think a lot of our conversation hosts have already registered with us and are here today in this audience.
Thank you for stepping up. Coerce all of your friends to do exactly the same. If you haven’t received emails back from us, it could be in the spam box, check your spam.
Otherwise, feel free to communicate with us over the next eight weeks or so. There will be lots more information coming onto the web site.
It is just about time to wrap up. Can I thank, firstly, Mandy, for her role in supporting us in producing this webinar, in the absence of Ally. Mandy, you have done a fantastic job, thank you for stepping into the breach. Can I thank also the staff of the Trust who have helped to pull this together today. Can I especially thank Kara who I have some semblance of the kind of extraordinary daily and weekly routine that Kara and Emily and Dean and others working with From the Heart, the kind of pressure that they’re under and it’s just been superb to have you join us today, Kara, and help us launch our part in your campaign. A very big thank you.
Jon, thank you, thank you, your poised and considered responses to all of those “no” critiques, I think, has been immensely useful to the audience today, to us and the team here and I am so glad the session booked out last week, it’s being recorded, I am so glad because what Kara you have said, Jon, what you have said, I think is a tremendous boost to the clarity and the energy that’s required to pull this off.
A big thank you to both of you.
Jon Faine: Congratulations to you, Mary and your team.
Mary Crooks: Thank you. It is the least we can do and to the audience, to all of you for taking this hour to come together online, strength to your arms, put your citizens hats on and let’s go for this wild road until October and let’s bring it home. Thank you. Take care.