As an Australian with First Nations and coloniser blood running through my veins, I’ve always believed in the promise of a fair and just Australia, one that can celebrate our 65,000 years of history, reconcile our colonial past and build a better future for all. But the Voice referendum has cast a shadow on that vision. It has revealed a darker side of our nation – one driven by selfishness and fear. And one where we allow ourselves to be sucked in by misinformation and social media algorithms.

The Voice Referendum was an opportunity to right historical wrongs, acknowledge the injustices faced by Australia’s First Peoples, and to pave the way for genuine Reconciliation. But the campaign and its outcome have caused deep harm.

The statistics are stark and disheartening: 97% of Australians were given the power to vote on the future of the 3% who are not only our continent’s traditional custodians, but also among nation’s most disadvantaged peoples. Meant to be a step towards inclusivity, the Referendum was a blunt reminder of the majority’s failure to prioritise empathy, fairness, and a shared commitment to healing past wounds and walking forward together.

Why did the referendum fail? The reasons are multifaceted, but at the core of this failure lies a disturbing sense of self-interest. A large number of Australians voted “No” seemingly because they were more interested in what was in it for them, or what they might lose. This isn’t to say that all “No” voters were driven by selfishness, but the overall outcome revealed a disturbing lack of collective empathy.

The “No” campaign was spearheaded by political figures like Peter Dutton and shadowy organisations like the Atlas Group that fed division and misinformation. It employed fear, lies, and social media algorithms to manipulate public opinion. The fact that such tactics succeeded in swaying public opinion is deeply troubling. It suggests that Australians are too lazy to inform themselves and make decisions for themselves. We are a society happy to let social media algorithms tell us what we should think. Australia is a selfish nation which prioritises self-interest.

In the lead-up to the referendum, I, like many Australians, believed we would unite in the pursuit of justice and Reconciliation. We had an opportunity to move forward as a more equitable and harmonious nation. But Australia failed the empathy test.

The outcome is a tragedy for all of us – First Nations and those who are not. It is a statement that the majority of Australians don’t care about values of justice, inclusivity, and compassion. We allow selfishness, fear, ignorance and laziness to prevail.

I see the beauty of a multicultural and harmonious Australia. A nation which embraces, celebrates and listens to the 65,000 years of humanity which has existed here. Our strength lies in our diversity, and this should be celebrated and embraced. But to do so, we must first acknowledge the past and the harm it continues to cause. We must recognise the ongoing disparities faced by First Nations people, from health and education to economic opportunities and racism. We must strive to create a nation where the 3% who have been marginalised for so long are no longer left behind. It is time to put laziness and self-interest aside and work together to build a brighter future for all Australians. One where empathy, understanding, and unity prevail over fear and selfishness.

Gregory  Andrews is a D’harawal man from NSW. He worked at SES levels in the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Environment, Climate Change, and Indigenous Affairs. He represented Australia as an Ambassador and High Commissioner in West Africa, and negotiated for Australia in the United Nations Climate Change negotiations. Gregory was Australia’s first-appointed Threatened Species Commissioner. He led development and implementation of Australia’s first Threatened Species Strategy and first Threatened Species Prospectus. In the NGO sector, he led, grew and reformed a national Indigenous charity . . . Lyrebird Dreaming.

Gregory speaks French and Mandarin. He has an Honours Degree in Economics and a Masters in Foreign Affairs and Trade.

(This article first appeared in Pearls & Irritations.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.