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Megan Davis, Ken Wyatt offer opinion on why Voice referendum failed

Jarred Cross -

First Nations leaders Professor Megan Davis and Ken Wyatt have given their appraisals of the major factors leading to the Voice referendum's landslide defeat, almost two months since Australians went to the polls.

In separate interviews reported this week, Professor Davis, who spearheaded the yes campaign The Uluru Dialogue Said "hatred for Australian politicians" played a role, while former Liberal MP and Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mr Wyatt saw fault in the single question presented to voters.

Speaking publicly for one of the first times following the result, Professor Davis told the Australian Financial Review there are positives to be taken from the six million people who backed the yes campaign, but public attitudes for political leaders signalled the referendum's downfall.

According to AFR, Professor Davis said the "hatred" played a larger role than racism.

"It was really hard to was a tornado-like force, all the time," she said.

The Cobble Cobble woman, constitutional lawyer, society Pro-Vice Chancellor at The University of NSW and Uluru Statement chair said while campaigning she was "deeply worried about what I was hearing out in the field" about apprehension for politicians.

"I support compulsory voting. One of the dangers, though, is that we mistake that for legitimacy, and we conflate that with trust in institutions and mistake that for a belief that Australians trust and have faith in the system, when, in fact, we are being forced to vote. Misinformation is a symptom of the problem," Professor Davis said.

She said the concerns of voters and those representing them often don't align.

Professor Davis is due to assess and publish on "what just happened" with Harvard University across late 2024-mid 2025.

According to AFR, She is also working on a book with UNSW law professor Gabrielle Appleby on the legal aspects of the referendum, and a collection of essays with James Cook University Indigenous Education and Research Centre Sana Nakata.

Professor David was also involved in joint-statement from a collective of Indigenous leaders announcing a week of silence shortly in the days following the referendum defeat.

The response labelled the result a "shameful victory" for the No camp, with Voice co-design report co-author Marcia Langton declaring "reconciliation is dead" in the days following.

While Professor Davis said "Marcia and everyone is probably right, that reconciliation is dead", it doesn't mean the journey is over.

"But we can't allow the status quo just to kick back in," Professor Davis told AFR.

She said a "movement" has been sparked among those Voice supporters who voted yes.

"But it has to be done grassroots; that's what I am feeling after the referendum. Politicians were too front and centre during the campaign, Uluru was always meant to be grassroots."

In an interview with Nine-Fairfax, Mr Wyatt said a two-part question - one whether to enshrine a Voice to Parliament and another second on constitutional recognition - might have returned a different outcome.

The former Minister for Indigenous Affairs quit the Liberal Party in April following their official stance against the Voice.

It came after serving 12 years as the Liberal MP in the WA seat of Hasluck, which ended at the 2022 election.

He said the yes campaign failed to respond to uncertainty among the public on the proposition.

Support dwindled across all jurisdictions in the months leading up to the referendum, ultimately ending with a nationwide majority of 60 per cent voting no.

"People I spoke to said had it been recognition I would have agreed to it but I wasn't comfortable with an enshrined Voice," Mr Wyatt told Nine-Fairfax.

"The quagmire that developed wasn't responded to. The quicksands of uncertainty became the glue that lost the vote.

"We've got to remember that referendums are the toughest campaign to win unless you have absolute clarity and can answer with precision and provide people with a strong sense of comfort that this … doesn't impact, as I heard somebody say, on their backyards.

"I think there was a high degree of confidence that this would get over the line, even if it was in the low 50s. I don't think too many people turned their minds, and this is the majority of those within the parliament, what was plan B should this fail?"

Mr Wyatt said new approach to Indigenous affairs is needed.

"So the perception Australians have is that all this money goes into Aboriginal affairs, but we're seeing no change," he said. "Historically, funding has been given to individuals to run significant programs, but they've never been reviewed."

Questions over current funding convention was a key message delivered by no campaign body Fair Australia, headed by Indigenous figures Warren Mundine and shadow minister for Indigenous Australians Jacinta Nampijinpa Price.

In line with Professor Davis, Mr Wyatt said the Voice defeat is not an "endpoint"

"The Indigenous leadership across this nation should take the position that we've had many setbacks over the 230-odd years of this nation and the setback of the referendum is not the endpoint," Wyatt said in an interview.

"Change has to happen in this nation. We cannot continue for another 50 years without seeing pragmatic results on the ground. We cannot tolerate the gaps."

He said legislated regional and local voices should have come before the referendum to gauge their value.


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