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There is no plan B - we only have one shot at poll

Dean Parkin -

In her message this month encouraging Australians to vote Yes in the referendum on constitutional recognition on October 14, Olympic legend Cathy Freeman captured the spirit of the moment when she said: "From small towns to big cities, something is in the air. I know all Australians feel it too."

That something was present in the air all the way down in Albany, in south-western WA, when hundreds of people came together to listen to a string of Indigenous locals explain why they are also calling for a Yes vote. The crowd listened to a rendition of "You're the Voice", John Farnham's song which has become a campaign anthem, performed by a horn player along with a bagpiper.

The same day at the opposite end of the continent, a 5,000km drive away in Bundaberg, Aunty Julie Appo was encouraging a crowd to speak to friends and family and "implant the desire to go out and find the right story", so people can get clear on the simple request before the nation when we go to the polling booths.

"I urge you to stick together on this with us," she said. "We don't want to walk behind you, we don't want to walk in front of you … we want to walk with you."

And in every major city that day Australians turned up carrying banners, waving flags and in many places braving the heat to show that a Yes vote is something we can be proud to back as a positive step forward for the nation. In total some 200,000 people turned up around the country.

Something is in the air all right.

Perhaps one of the most encouraging things has been that, with increasing frequency, we are hearing from people who once were leaning toward voting No, but when they research the actual proposal that Australians will vote on, they realise it truly is a simple proposition.

They are also coming to terms with the reality that we are only going to get one shot at this. There is no Plan B. A No result in the referendum will be a vote for continuing the same approach to policymaking on Indigenous issues that has been such an undeniable failure.

A Yes vote will mean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are finally recognised in the Constitution by means of a standing advisory committee, which will inform better decision-making by Parliament.

This is the absolute essence of what was proposed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the historic consensus reached all the way back in 2017, itself the result of years of consultation and discussion about the model amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and leaders.

In the years I have been talking to people about the diverse and complex problems in Indigenous communities, the one relentless theme has been people just want politicians and bureaucrats to listen before they make decisions.

Yes makes it possible to take this fresh approach. Yes makes it possible to bring the country together. Yes makes it possible that we will see governments make laws about Indigenous Australians with them – not for them.

Just like Aunty Julie in Bundaberg, I encourage you all to support people to go out and find the right story. Waking up on October 15 having said Yes will be an enormously positive step forward for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the Australian nation.

Dean Parkin

Director of 'From the Heart'


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