Social sector organisations have joined forces to support an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
The Allies for Uluru Coalition, representing 144 organisations – including Our Community – and thousands more individuals nationwide, urged other groups to join the alliance backing the Yes campaign in the referendum to change the constitution.
Their call came just a week after the formal campaign launch in Adelaide, which was led by First Nations groups and addressed by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Representatives of The Fred Hollows Foundation, Oxfam Australia, ACOSS, ANTAR and other social sector CEOs and activists laid out strategies for allies supporting the constitutional change.
In short? Take the high ground, keep it simple, and spread the word.
There was no shortage of passionate sector advocates at the February 28 launch at the Koorie History Trust on Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung land in Naarm, Melbourne, but perhaps the most inspiring words came from Wiradjuri leader Roy Ah-See.
He told the story of his difficult path from disadvantaged boy, raised by a single mum, who ended up in jail as a young man, to successful man at the highest level.
Ah-See is now a respected First Nations elder who has addressed the United Nations, advised former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, headed the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, led major Indigenous businesses and worked to help youth.
He said the path to constitutional change would also be a trial, and as one who has faced down troubles many times, he said the campaign “is going to get rough the closer we get”.
He warned sector leaders that the “no” campaign would be able to spoil the referendum push by targeting specific regions and groups, while the “yes” vote would “need to win everywhere at once”.
But he said the Uluru Statement from the Heart was “the lighthouse” which represented the “collective wisdom of our people” and that anyone unsure about the true desires of Australia’s First Nations peoples should look to that document.
He said that in the face of attempts to confuse the issue, Australians had a simple choice: “You only have to say yes or no!”
Urging people to campaign for a “yes” vote, he stressed that Indigenous leaders were ready to speak up and explain why the Voice was needed.
“Invite us to forums, we’re happy to engage,” he said.
The Allies for Uluru Coalition committed itself to sharing resources and information, coordinating action, and building a groundswell of public support.
Fred Hollows Foundation CEO Ian Wishart said a Voice to Parliament was “not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”
Oxfam chief executive Lyn Morgain said her organisation had a proud 50-year history as an ally of First Nations groups and a “yes” vote would “help us as a nation to take steps towards delivering a better future for the First Peoples of Australia.”
ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said the recognition was “long overdue”.
“We will be proudly working to mobilise our members across Australia to vote ‘yes’.”
ANTAR national director Paul Wright said the First Nations advocacy body recognised a “once in a generation opportunity” and saw the referendum as a step towards a better country.
“ANTAR stands with the many First Nations peoples and our fellow civil society partners in calling for the full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.”
Members of ICDA’s advisory arm, the Community Directors Council, last month predicted the Voice to Parliament would be a top issue for not-for-profits in 2023.
Council member Jahna Cedar, an Indigenous business leader, summed up the views of others when she said groups should consider the referendum a priority, in keeping with “the role we play as champions and allies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.
She suggested sympathetic groups should “walk shoulder to shoulder with our First Nations people, without trying to lead the conversation. It needs to be an inclusive dialogue.”
Charities regulator’s guidance on Voice campaigns
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) says charities are within their rights to campaign for their preferred result in the coming referendum.
ACNC commissioner Sue Woodward said groups could make a valuable contribution to the debate and advocating wouldn’t breach guidelines if a charity were able to “demonstrate how it believes its advocacy furthers its charitable purpose”.
A message of support for either “yes” or “no”, such as in an email signature block, wouldn’t jeopardise a charity’s registration, she said.
The clarification in support of advocates is a stark contrast to the push against advocacy during the Morrison government’s tenure.
Our Community managing director Denis Moriarty commended the Commissioner for "being on the front foot and releasing guidelines on this important issue".