This is an edited version of my remarks at St Ives on 23 July at the YES Forum. The speakers were:

  • Desmond Campbell
  • Dr Shireen Morris
  • Zali Steggall
  • Me

Many heartfelt thanks to the 250 or so people who attended, and especially to those who asked questions at the end. Thanks also to Voices of Bradfield and for arranging the video recording of the event, links to which are at the bottom of this post.

Thank every one of you for turning up today.  Because this is what civics is about. Our democracy is not a spectator sport and getting informed and engaged is key to enjoying a vibrant one, here in Bradfield, in NSW and across our nation.

For disclosure I will be voting YES and I find myself also campaigning for a Yes outcome. This wasn’t always the case.  I had intended to be agnostic but instead put my shoulder to wheel on information and education about the mechanics of a referendum.

Alas, when Bradfield’s current member of parliament, who is a member of the Opposition front bench, showed his hand “to be in solidarity with the LNP in a campaign to deliver NO”, then I started turning up to events like this one.  

I look, I can’t look into the hearts and minds of those who are arguing for NO. I will just accept that they make those arguments, and some will be in good faith and some will not. I will never know and it is pointless to interrogate.

The speakers panel, 23 July 23

Zali Steggall addresses the forum

I would rather make the YES case from first principles, and the very first principle is that what we as a nation have been doing to, and purportedly for, our indigenous brothers and sisters (and their children and grandchildren) hasn’t worked. Gaps have not been closed fast enough; some have even worsened. Youth incarceration is ridiculously high. Life expectancy remains stubbornly low. So we need to try something else.

When you're in a hole, stop digging.

Let's try something else, something that ushers the dispossessed and the harmed into the heart of decisions that effect them.

Not to lecture us, nor to drive home that we today are not responsible for what our ancestors did. We know that.

But to remind us that we are absolutely responsible for what is happening now.

If that's virtue signaling, then I'm on a megaphone, waving flags up here.

If it's moral posturing, then I'm doing downward dog, doing hot yoga.

Why I am choosing yes is because:

  • The Voice will raise the quality of decision making
  • The Voice will raise the quality of decision making on matters relating to Indigenous peoples, and their children, across health, housing, education, employment
  • The Voice will raise the quality of decision making on matters impacting Indigenous peoples and their children, for their benefit, and therefore the benefit of all Australians.

Because some gain, doesn’t mean others need lose. This is a false framework of thinking.

Outside of the competitive world of business, we live in a society, made up of communities and their families, people.  When we are all educated, housed, healthy and employed, our whole society benefits.  It thrives. In fact, in this regard, as Australians we are only as strong as our weakest link. 

Personally, I find it morally and practically impossible to take the stage and criticise the Chinese Government’s record on human rights, when we as Australians have indefinite detention of peoples seeking asylum and an indigenous youth incarceration rate 6.5 times that of non-indigenous 10-17 year olds.  

This is not because ATSI children are born naughtier than non-indigenous children. There is no recessive gene that predisposes indigenous children to mischief.


It’s like this because they are born into disadvantage, systematic disadvantage. 30% of indigenous households live in poverty, compared to 16% of non-indigenous.  70% of indigenous people rent compared to the national average of 31%. How do you get out of the poverty cycle this way? 

Perhaps if we listen to their experiences, ideas and suggestions, all this can start to turn a corner.

I just want to take a moment for us to think through what it means if we vote no

Of course you can.

BUT please understand that it doesn’t mean you’re saying yes to an alternative for a different model, or a treaty. 

No other model is being offered in this referendum so voting NO means doing nothing, more of the same and accepting the status quo

Most fair-minded Aussies would agree that the position that First Peoples find themselves in is untenable and unacceptable. So more of the same is not the answer.

Proudly, choosing YES is recognising that we want change

It is recognising that listening - simply listening - to our first peoples is a step we have never taken seriously before.

It is not granting extra votes or special representations, it is ensuring that we institutionalise what we should have been doing anyway.

In the past, on those few occasions when we as a nation have approached giving First Peoples the respect they deserve as Australians, as the equals of the people who purport to represent them, we have been quick to take that away when confronted. We have been very good at not listening.

It is little wonder that the people who drafted the Uluru statement from the Heart fear the muscle memory of the non-indigenous.

This is why the Voice must be in the constitution, so it cannot be removed or traduced at the whim of a parry, or prime minister momentarily in power.

It can only be removed at the will of the people. Hopefully, just maybe our grandchildren, or even children, get to do that in their lifetime, because the Voice has worked and the gaps are closed. We can remove the Voice from our Constitution.  And we truly find ourselves walking together towards our common future.

Finally, a word on the constitution. There has been a tendency, especially in our media, to speak of the constitution in reverential terms, with a capital C and with the worshipful intonations many have in the USA for their constitution. In this rendering, referendums are tantamount to heresy, to calling into question the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, a phrase that also is an Americanism.

Our constitution IS a solid document.

BUT it is also a product of the 19th century. It is the result of an agreement between white men living in Australia, many of whom who did not think of themselves as Australians, and the British Parliament. It is, in no sense, a guide for the future, but it is a very solid foundation upon which to renovate. And a vote for YES is not a Grand Design but a sensible renovation.

What you are being asked to vote on is not a treaty or another model, it’s far simpler than that, you’re being asked if you agree or disagree to establishing an entity to inform government.

  • Please read the resources available via the Assembly website.
  • Please apply critical thinking to “information” published by the “No” campaign, as, in my opinion, most of it is unsubstantiated misinformation designed to cause fear and confusion.
  • Please, if you’re a yes then join me and others from right across the political spectrum to pledge on the Yes23 campaign website.

Let’s celebrate, congratulate ourselves on what we’ve achieved so far in terms of reconciliation.  Let’s take a brave stance on this to take us further and faster by choosing YES

It’s time to build a better future WITH First Peoples of Australia and their children. Together: Better is Possible.

The speakers' panel

The questions and speakers' responses
Rob Mills


Uploaded by me for the Nicolette Boele campaign for Bradfield