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The referendum conversation we need to have

We are just months out from the referendum, but there are still so many valid questions and concerns that can not be ignored.

That's why GetUp's First Nations justice team have pulled together a statement. Informed by countless conversations with First Nations communities, grassroots organisers, politicians, and GetUp members, the statement draws some lines in the sand and makes several key demands.

You can read the full statement below, which we hope is an articulation of what is at stake, and the opportunity that lies ahead.

These are critical questions at a critical time in the lead up to the referendum. And we need as many people as possible to see it.

Will you chip in today to get this statement in the Sydney Morning Herald this week?
Let's be honest about our political history. When it comes to First Nations people, some governments have purposely created policies that were harmful to our communities, and even well-intentioned governments are still making big mistakes.

GetUp is a powerful independent movement with over 1 million members. We give everyday people the chance to make an extraordinary impact. Our work is driven by our values, not party politics. We are committed to First Nations justice campaigning.

We've built a specialist team of First Nations staff who are resourced to campaign in partnership with our communities. Our work is grounded in the belief that First Nations people and communities have the freedom and power to determine their own cultural, economic, political and social futures for themselves, families and communities. What we are hearing is that too many First Nations people have little understanding of what the referendum is trying to deliver. There are incredible barriers to information. The debate is creating fear that something is being done to us. People are worried about being the centre of a long political campaign and the impact it could have on our communities.

The majority of people support First Nations fights for justice, treaties, truth-telling and want greater ambition and action from our elected representatives - a lot of us are even asking if the referendum is enough.

Power in referendums isn't in the wording of a question, it's in the act of voting. If millions of people vote 'yes' it will deliver the political will for governments to move from the status quo. However, we won't support symbolic constitutional recognition. The addition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander as just words in our constitution was heavily rejected by our communities years ago.

We demand the type of change that will not only change people's lives but define who we are as a country. While the path through parliament looks uncertain we want to see the election commitments to voters upheld. Treaty and truth-telling must be realised.

For our movement to support the referendum, we want a strong amendment to pass through the parliament and need a public commitment that the model will be developed post referendum in partnership with First Nations communities at a grassroots level. We want the people who are to be represented to have the right to decide who will represent them.

To Prime Minister Anthony Albanese - This campaign can't be run and won from Parliament House in Canberra, election night podiums or festival stages. Come with your Ministers and sit down in First Nations communities, and take the time to listen to how we need this to work.

To the media - We have a diversity of opinions and long held aspirations that have a place in this debate, and their ability to come to fruition will ultimately rest on your choice to cover them. Put the resources in, make sure that a diversity of First Nations voices are uplifted and that their stories are covered in a culturally safe way. How you cover this Referendum will play a critical role in ensuring the wellbeing of our communities.

To the people who will decide - Governments only do what's popular, you have a powerful say about another person's future. If you're committed to the future we are, then you know change will take time.That means accountability needs to be on every election ballot until we deliver the change we're calling for.
What is the referendum?
  • The Voice to parliament was a key recommendation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. A 12-paragraph document composed and endorsed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives who attended regional dialogues and the Uluru summit in 2017. The premise is to change the Constitution to improve the representation of First Nations peoples.
  • The statement called for an advisory body, called "the Voice", to consult and give advice to parliament on policy matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, such as health, education and social and economic disadvantages.
  • The Government has proposed a draft referendum question – "Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?"
  • The Government has signalled this referendum and vote will take place in late 2023.
What is needed to win a referendum?
  • A referendum is only passed if it is approved by a majority of voters across the country and a majority of voters in a majority of states—this is known as a double majority. Voters in the ACT and Northern Territory are only counted in the national majority.
How will the referendum run?
  • The referendum will run just like an election, all across the country people will head to the polls on the same day. Normally the government would fund the yes and no campaigns but this referendum the government has decided no public money will go into the campaigns.
What is Getup's position?
  • Our team will never sign up to symbolism and constitutional recognition, a path that has been heavily rejected by our communities. We support a referendum that goes beyond symbolic gestures and creates space for ambitious change.
  • It's a once in a generation opportunity to talk about First Nations Justice and the things our communities have been calling for like treaty, truth telling and self determination.
  • GetUp has huge concerns that in some communities people haven't even heard about the Referendum or don't understand how it will work and the impact it will have on them.
What is GetUp's take on the split in support in First Nations communities for a Voice?
  • Just like every community, First Nations people have a range of different political views and all of those views need to be respected.
  • The media and political commentators have an important role to play to ensure there are no attacks on black voices and cover the Referendum in a culturally safe way.
  • GetUp have had countless conversations with mob about concerns they have about the referendum. There are a range of views across the political spectrum, including concerns that this will just be a symbolic gesture that won't create change, no faith in a political system that has failed for so long and that this referendum won't lead to treaty and truth telling.
  • In some communities, people haven't even heard about the referendum or don't understand how it will work and the impact it will have on them. It is concerning that many of our communities cannot partake in this national dialogue because there is no consultation, let alone consultation in their languages to understand and be part of the process.