Indigenous affairs

Voting on the Voice in WA

A new study has released alarming data revealing Western Australia has the highest percentage of voters predicted to vote ‘No’ in the upcoming Voice referendum.

A survey conducted by JWS Research in March asked participants, ‘Even if it is just a leaning, do you support an alteration to the constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?’

The results were categorised by state.

The Voice to Parliament is a proposed representative body allowing First Nations people to advise the Australian government on policies that affect them.

A referendum is likely to be held between October and December this year and will ask Australians if they approve an alteration to the constitution to include an Indigenous Voice.

Amongst all states that were surveyed (Tasmania, the Northern Territory and ACT were not surveyed) WA contributors returned the highest percentage of people ‘intending’ to vote ‘No.’

Although 50 per cent of WA respondents said they would vote ‘Yes,’ 42 per cent said they would vote ‘No.’

Fifty-four per cent of Victorian respondents said they would vote ‘Yes’ and 35 per cent said they would vote ‘No.’

New South Wales followed a similar trend, with 52 per cent of respondents saying the would vote ‘Yes’ and only 32 per cent voting ‘No.’

A survey by JWS Research has revealed WA has the highest percentage of ‘No’ voters in the Voice referendum. Graph: Jessica Evensen.

Despite this, the federal member for Perth Patrick Gorman assures WA is ‘ready’ to take the next step toward reconciliation.

In an opinion piece written by the Labor MP in February, Gorman said a number of local councils had expressed their support for the Voice.

“We are fortunate in WA to be guided across the political spectrum to the advancement of the Voice … from the City of Vincent, to the City of Fremantle, local communities are expressing their support for the Voice,” he wrote.

“The Shire of East Pilbara, home to at least 13 Indigenous language groups, has expressed its support for the Voice.”

Emma Garlett, a Nyungar-Nyiyaparli-Yamatji woman, believes Australia must ‘raise the bar’ in its treatment of First Nations people. Photo: The West Australian.

But Emma Garlett, a Nyungar-Nyiyaparli-Yamatji woman from Geraldton and casual academic at Curtin University, says in comparison to the treatment of Indigenous people in other states WA has a ‘long way to go.’

“You don’t need to be university educated to understand that Aboriginal people are not treated in the same way as non-Indigenous people … it’s a simple fact,” she says.

“The thing with WA is we are one of the states that’s not really as progressive with Aboriginal rights and Aboriginal affairs.”

“If you compare WA to states like Victoria, they’ve [Victoria] got a really thorough treaty process with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people … a lot of their laws have been reformed to support Aboriginal rights and interests.”

In 2018 the Victorian government passed the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act, becoming Australia’s first treaty law.

ANTAR advocates for ‘Voice, Treaty and Truth’ for First Nations Australians. Photo: Jessica Evensen.

According to Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTAR), an advocacy group dedicated to improving justice, rights and respect for First Nations Australians, WA has still not committed to a treaty process.

The JWS Research survey also found lack of information to be a key barrier for support towards the referendum.

“I do not vote for something that I do not understand and the PM [Prime Minister] is refusing to explain what voting ‘Yes’ is for … although he has been asked numerous times to explain what the Yes vote entails, he has still not enlightened anyone as to why we should vote yes,” one respondent said.

“The poorly explained concept appears to consist of a token change to the constitution,” said another.

Garlett believes there are a number of factors, including political engagement, that determine how a West Australian will vote in the Voice referendum.

“Most Aboriginal people who I’ve spoken to know what the Voice to Parliament is, but there are probably some people that don’t,” she says.

“Whether that be because they choose to not engage in news or media … or whether they’re non-Indigenous. Some non-Indigenous people just may not be interested in politics.

“Whether they are from regional or remote areas really makes a difference on how they vote.”

Garlett says Australia must ‘raise the bar’ in its treatment of Aboriginal people, and believes reconciliation efforts must be endorsed by First Nations people.

“Any proposal put to government needs to be researched, endorsed and validated by Aboriginal people.”

ANTAR WA’s chairperson John McBain believes the Voice is a compromise. Photo: Jessica Evensen.

Like Garlett, ANTAR WA’s chairperson John McBain believes the Voice referendum should be led by First Nations people.

“In this country the ways we’ve come up with moving forwards as a non-Blackfella society for Blackfellas are a total failure, joke and disgrace,” he says.

“Imagine if I came up to you as a 70-year-old man and said, ‘This is how you should be living your life,’ you’d go away thinking, ‘This guy’s an idiot’.

“Well that’s basically what we’ve been doing to Blackfellas … I can’t see the world through your eyes so what right do I have? What legitimacy do we have to tell Blackfellas what to do?”

John McBain believes there is a lot we can learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Photo: Jessica Evensen.

While McBain acknowledges he doesn’t want to be negative about the Voice, he says the Australian government has a long way to go.

“Governments have spent decades trying to impose solutions from Canberra rather than consulting with communities. So bear in mind that if the Voice referendum is successful … at the very best, it’s a majority of Whitefella’s saying what Blackfella’s can say and do.”

John McBain says we must ‘listen’ to First Nations people. Video: Jessica Evensen.