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'If You Don’t Know, Vote No' takes Australians for fools: Orange Yes campaigner Kishaya Delaney

October 9, 2023

Kishaya Delaney and the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Facebook.

By Peter Holmes

The Orange News Examiner spoke to Yes advocate Kishaya Delaney, a lawyer from Orange who has been spreading the word about the Voice in recent years.

Q: Six months ago, if you believe the polls, the majority of Australians were in favour of a Voice to Parliament. That vote seems to have collapsed. What happened?

I think polls are quite hard to go off, a lot of the time. The No campaign has done a good job of sowing a lot of doubt in people’s minds, but I think that there is a lot of misinformation out there, and people are struggling to make sense of it.

I also think a lot of people don’t tend to make up their minds until right before a vote and in elections about a third of people don't really decide until the week, or day of the vote.

Polls can skew the picture a bit, as you’re forcing people to answer yes or no to something they haven’t really considered much yet.

I think we’ll see a different picture in the lead up to the vote.

Q: Some polls give people the option of being unsure, and others don’t. But, is it enough at this stage to say it’s the fault of misinformation? Is that going to get Yes over the line? Or does Yes need to find a way to connect emotionally with people?

I’m confident the more Australians learn about what’s proposed, where it came from and how it can make a difference for First Nations people, the more they’ll support it, and that’s our job. My job for the past few years, and the role of the working group, is just helping people to understand what is a Voice, what is the Uluru Statement, and where did it come from.

Q: The Yes side is facing incoming from all angles - you’ve got Indigenous people who don’t trust the government, and those who say they don’t need to be treated differently; you have those who want treaty and truth telling first; then you have people who say it will divide us; old-school racists; those who don’t understand what is going on; and some mob saying it won’t represent them. Did you expect that kind of multi-pronged attack?

I think there are a myriad of reasons why people might not support the Voice, but there are also a myriad of reasons why they will support the Voice, and there are just as many reasons people support Yes as for No.

Amongst First Nations people there is always going to be a diversity of perspectives, and to expect 100 percent of any social group to agree is really an unfair standard. Most non-Indigenous people should take comfort in the fact that more than 80 percent of First Nations people support the Voice, and that's consistent with what we've found doing work in the community in the last few years.

It comes down to whether you think the Voice will make a practical difference and I do, and I think a lot of people do.

Q: You work as a lawyer in Sydney?

Yes. I grew up in Orange and all my family is based in Orange. I go back quite a bit to work in the Orange for the Voice and to see my family and nieces and nephews.

Q: What field of law are you working in?

I work in commercial law but in the pro bono team. I work mostly with charities and not for profits, Aboriginal organisations and clients.

Q: You are Wiradjuri?

Yes. That’s my mother’s side. My dad’s side is Irish.

Q: From what I can see there have only been two polls looking at Indigenous support: one in January and one in March, and they both showed a clear majority - one at 80 percent and I think the other at 83 percent. Do you think they are a fair representation of what’s happening now?

There are other polls. The Australian Reconciliation Barometer has run polls for a few years. The 83 percent was the most representative proportionate poll of First Nations people, and the margin of error for that poll is very slim.

It's more about the conversations I've been having on the ground with the community through the education Regional Uluru Dialogues has been doing, and it's very consistent. Most First Nations people are very supportive of this.

Q: Most Australians don’t care much for politics and activism. Was there a time where something happened in your life that made you realise that change is made by those who participate?

I lost my older brother in a car accident when I was nine years old, and my family in Orange became big advocates for organ donation. We used to run annual donor days and I used to get up in front of the whole school and tell everyone to tell their parents to donate their organs and give blood.

I think that during that work I realised how important it is for people to speak out on different issues, and how many people are just waiting to be engaged.

Q: Some First Nations say they want Treaty and Truth Telling first. They say the country has to come to terms with its past. Others say a Voice will be the first in a long process towards Treaty and Truth Telling. How do you address that?

A few things. The sequencing of Voice, Treaty, Truth was what was called for in the deliberative process that led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, so that is the mandate that I carry as an ambassador for the Uluru Youth Dialogue.

While many First Nations people want to see a treaty, realistically if the government wants to turn around today and say they would enter into negotiations for a treaty, who is going to negotiate on behalf of First Nations people? And who is going to decide what the contents of that treaty should be?

I think a Voice gives you the opportunity to communicate among First Nations people and deliberate and decide what we actually want to see, then it’s a much better step towards a treaty. We’ve seen in Victoria with the treaty process, the very first thing they did was set up a representative body.

Truth telling is interesting, because it’s something that arose really naturally in the dialogues. Many of the delegates talked about their family’s and community’s history and the need for all Australians to understand the way that our history has impacted on us.

But truth telling is also something that happens every day - locally, state-based, nationally, and it’s something that’s ongoing.

At a national level it’s something that's been used to detail more substantive progress, and if you think of really significant moments of truth telling in Aboriginal history, you might think of the Bringing Them Home report, or the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Significant moments of truth telling that didn’t necessarily lead to substantive changes.

The Voice is about having an opportunity to give advice and make representations on laws and policies that impact our lives every day, to try and lead to better outcomes, and not giving the government the chance to kick the can down the road in terms of substantive change.

I am really passionate about localised truth telling, where local Aboriginal communities work with local historians or the council to look back at what happened in that particular area.

If you look at our education system now compared to what it was 30 or 40 years ago, it has a lot more elements of truth telling in it, but I think it is really hard to engage adults - particularly over 40 - in truth telling experiences, because they missed it when they were growing up.

It’s a really big challenge. There are so many people who are resistant to recognising what happened in the past.

Q: One thing Indigenous people in Orange have said is that they’re worried about the relationships they’ve developed with government agencies or other bodies, and they fear if the Voice is enacted they’ll be told, “We don’t deal with you now, you’ll have to go through the Voice”. They worry that if they’re not plugged into the Voice - for political or other reasons - they’ll lose those relationships.

I think those are valid concerns that people have about the way the Voice will be set up, and the way it will be structured, but there would be a lot of those discussions as the Voice was being designed and developed - looking at how we can use existing relationships and structures, and build on that at local and regional levels.

The beauty of having the Voice protected in the constitution is that if things aren’t working, they can change, and they can evolve over time. In my view it would be impressive if the government got it right the first time, but I don’t think they will.

I think they will try a model, and it will change and evolve as the needs of communities change and evolve, but being protected by the constitution means we have the ability to do that without the Voice being completely shut down, and starting over from scratch.

The way the Voice looks in Orange might be quite different from the way it looks in the Northern Territory or WA. It will need to reflect local communities, and that's what the post-referendum process will be about.

Q: Let's say on October 15 Australia has voted Yes and work starts. It’s going to take a couple of years, isn’t it, for the parliament to consult and come to some agreement - how often it meets with the Voice, how long it sets aside for discussions, how many people are on various local committees?

After the referendum there will be discussions with Aboriginal communities and the broader public to design the Voice, then it will have to go through the normal parliamentary processes of legislation to be passed. That will take a couple of years.

The Voice is going to be around for a long time, so it’s OK if it takes a bit of time to get it set up initially.

Q: Some people expect every last detail about how the Voice would work, but MPs can’t pass legislation for something that doesn’t yet exist. And a Voice won’t exist - or not - until after the vote. Some people think they are being duped, but it’s really just how government works. Trying to explain that, though, is a lot more difficult than just saying to people “If you don’t know, vote no”.

I think that's what we're up against. A lot of people haven't turned their mind to the constitution. A lot of people don’t really care about the way the system works, as long as it works for them.

I think helping people to understand the way we’re going about this process - having the vote on the existence of the Voice, then setting it up through legislation - is very typical of constitutional change.

Also, if there was a model on the table right now that would be misleading to the Australian public because that is not a model that would be permanent, that model would be subject to change [after the vote].

The government has provided the Voice design principles, which has a lot more detail than people realise is out there.

It’s about the way the Voice would give representation; that it would be selected by Aboriginal communities, not by the executive government; the fact that members would serve for a fixed period of time; and it would fall within the scope of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. There is detail there but I think a lot of people haven’t turned their mind to it yet.

Q: Would you say you’re confident, quietly confident, hopeful, or not hopeful at all?

I’m confident. I believe in the Australian public. I believe that people recognise the significance of this moment, and they see the potential impact that it would have on our country. I think “If you don’t know, vote no” takes Australians for fools. It assumes they are dumb and not inquisitive. I think most of the Australian public probably do care.

Q: There are about 800,000 First Nations people in Australia. Let’s assume those polls we discussed earlier are roughly accurate. On October 15, if the referendum succeeds, there will be more than 600,000 Indigenous people who feel relieved, or happy, or optimistic, or whatever it might be. If the referendum fails - what do you think those same 600,000 people will be feeling? How will you be feeling?

I don’t like to think about it too much. It would be really confronting to have to process. It will be devastating for both me and the broader community. I think it will set us back a long while.

I don’t think any government would entertain any idea of an alternative, or treaty, or truth telling, if they think the majority of the Australian public doesn’t care about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their position in the country and the constitution. I think it’ll take a long time personally for me to recover, and for the community more broadly.


Pre-poll is at Orange Function Centre until Friday.

The referendum is this Saturday, October 14, 2023. For a map of voting places in and around Orange on the Australian Electoral Commission map see here.

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