By Honorary Associate Professor Leanne Coombe, Policy and Advocacy Manager, PHAA
On 31 October, I joined a debriefing session with colleagues who are members of Allies for Uluru. We acknowledged and celebrated the extent of activities and efforts taken to support the Uluru Dialogue and Yes23 Campaign in the lead up to the referendum. We also shared our reflections on the result’s impact and potential implications for the future.
The contributions of allied organisations were extensive. Activities ranged from education and advocacy campaigns, public media statements, translation of information resources, hosting of webinars, town-hall, and other events, secondment of staff or provision of in-kind resources, and more.
But the additional efforts of individual members and staff both during and outside of workhours were also recognised. These included having those important conversations with family, friends, and colleagues, assisting local Yes groups with doorknocking and phone calls, sharing on socials, volunteering at election booths and the list goes on. The Allies for Uluru team and First Nations’ colleagues in the meeting expressed their sincere gratitude for all the support from allies across the nation – both at an institutional and individual level. They celebrated the fact there were over 6.2 million people who ultimately voted Yes.
Nevertheless, the emotional impact of the No outcome has taken its toll. Participants were provided an opportunity and encouraged to reflect and debrief, with responses including the usual range of reactions to grief and loss. Some of us are still experiencing shock and disbelief at the margin of defeat, especially those who have campaigned for change for their entire careers or lifetimes, and thus are struggling to move forward as a consequence – both personally and professionally.
Then there are those feeling anger, shame, and frustration. Many want to fight back against the mis- and dis-information used in the No campaign, and against those governments that are already trying to roll back commitments to treaty and truth-telling processes in some jurisdictions.
Others are just feeling depression, fatigue, and despair, overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness and inability to make any real difference, given the extent of the rejection and potential weaponisation of the outcome as a mandate for inaction. Some are starting to search for meaning, wanting to reflect on what could or would have made a difference. Others are fearful of the apparent normalisation of racism and mistruth seen during the campaign and are contemplating what this will mean.
And finally, there are those starting to accept the outcome, seeing it only as a temporary set-back, who are already exploring options for next steps, and planning where our focus should next be channelled.
Wherever we are on this spectrum, it is important that we both make for ourselves – and provide for others – the opportunity and time required to grieve and heal. Some people were able to take a break during the week of silence, but many were not or were unable to take as long as needed. We must recognise that for many, this healing process may take considerable time. We need to give each other the space for healing to occur, but also be there to listen when needed and provide ongoing support.
If you, or someone you know needs additional support, try the following helplines:
- 13YARN (13 92 76)
- Brother-to-brother (1800 435 799)
- Lifeline (13 11 14)
- Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636)
- Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800)
NACCHO and the Department of Health and Aged Care have also developed the Connection. Strength. Resilience. Portal, which has a wide range of resources to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the referendum’s aftermath.
The big question asked at the meeting was – what next?
Whilst it was confirmed there are ongoing dialogues being held between First Nations leaders to inform this decision, reaching consensus is likely to take time. After all, it took decades of work to culminate in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and it subsequently took six years for the referendum to be conducted. It was agreed that whilst we wait for the First Nations leadership to decide the next steps, we need to strengthen our networks, so we are ready as allies to mobilise again when needed.
There was consensus that staying connected as Allies for Uluru, and with the 50,000 plus supporters of the Yes23 campaign – many of whom were volunteering for a political campaign for the first time – is necessary to harness and build momentum for change. This can even include ‘recruiting’ those to our cause who may now be regretting voting No.
More importantly, we must continue to challenge the racism and dis-information narratives that were aired during the campaign.
Ignorance and lies were prevalent, and even encouraged. We need truth to respond to this. We can fight for truth by supporting movements such as the Australia Institute’s Stop the Lies campaign, which calls on the federal government to “pass truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech before the next federal election”.
Ally organisations can also support the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be heard. They can respond to the issues that are important to communities by augmenting Indigenous-led campaigns such as Family Matters and Change the Record, as well as the broad campaign to Raise the Age of criminal responsibility. We can advocate to ensure that commitments for Closing the Gap, which were developed in partnership with the Coalition of Peaks, stay on the political agenda.
As organisations and individuals, we can also pursue truth-telling through non-governmental processes by maintaining and continuing journeys of reconciliation. We can amplify First Nations programs that promote story-telling, build partnerships with and support local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations by attending community events, purchasing from Indigenous businesses, or donating to Indigenous not-for-profit organisations.
We may not have succeeded in obtaining a Yes vote in the referendum, but the outcome has not taken the Uluru Statement from the Heart away from us. We remain committed to achieving its aspirations and advocating for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
So, whilst we await advice from the First Nations leadership on what they think needs to come next, and what role we allies might play, let’s keep working on the parts of the Statement that we can locally influence. After all, we remain Allies for Uluru!