Fear is a powerful thing. It stops us from asking a girl to dance, or telling a boy we like them.
Fear caused Galileo to be imprisoned for stating the Earth orbits the sun. It caused women to be burned as witches.
Fear twists us and diminishes us and keeps us frozen in time. It poisons our ability to embrace hope and move forward.
And now, we see fear being ruthlessly weaponised in the Voice referendum.
Prominent ‘No’ campaign leader Chris Inglis has been recorded telling volunteers not to identify themselves as ‘No’ activists when making calls, but to instead portray themselves as ‘concerned citizens’ who had ‘heard’ the Voice will try, amongst other things, abolish Australia Day.
“When reason and emotion collide, emotion always wins,” he is quoted as saying.
Use fear. Spread fear. Make people afraid.
The ‘No’ campaign isn’t interested in debating or winning an argument using facts and reason: it sees its path to victory paved with an appeal to primal insecurities that change should be resisted.
It’s disheartening, it’s effective and it’s dangerous.
The power of fear is perfectly articulated in popular culture by the character Yoda in Star Wars: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
The long-term consequences of employing fear to win an argument is that people become angry, and then learn to hate that which they were once told to be afraid of.
Voters won’t just go back to being their normal happy selves after being convinced to be afraid. What else should they be afraid of? There are plenty of bad actors out there willing to stoke fears. Even a cursory glance of social media shows what a cesspit it can be, with even the wildest conspiracy theories now taking hold.
I urge readers to visit the Australian Electoral Commission website aec.gov.au where both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ cases are published. Read the contributions, make up your own mind.
The fact is, this referendum seeks to make a simple but significant change. If carried, it will lead to the creation of a body called the Voice which can ask to be consulted on matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
It will be an advisory body. It won’t have decision-making power, it won’t fund programs.
And for 24.7 million of Australia’s 25.69 million people, it will have no impact on our lives.
But for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it will ensure they are able to have a seat at the table when policies and laws affecting them are being deliberated.
Parliament and Government will still be responsible for all laws, programs and funding. The Voice will have no veto powers.
This change is something that was requested by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Uluṟu Statement of the Heart (the website ulurustatement.org gives a terrific history).
The gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians across all measures of living standards remain too wide and in some cases are getting worse not better, despite many years of good intentions and attempts to improve outcomes.
Indigenous people from across the country came together 4 years ago to state this was the best way forward to make practical changes that will improve health, education, employment, housing and justice outcomes: simply provide a seat at the table so they can offer advice before decisions get made.
That’s it. A seat at the table. That’s nothing to be afraid of.
I choose hope over fear. I choose ‘Yes’.
This article was published in The Mercury, Hobart on Thursday 14th September 2023.