Sunday, October 15, 2022
VOTERS in Brunswick gave resounding support to the Voice to Parliament at Saturday’s referendum, with a Yes vote of more than 83% recorded across the suburb.
The result for Yes was as high as 92.1% at the Brunswick South Primary School booth as voters in the inner north defied the national trend which saw the referendum defeated by a No vote of 60.6%.
The federal electorate of Wills recorded one of the highest Yes votes in Australia with 64.3% voting in favour of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.
The high Yes vote in Brunswick has been attributed to the area’s tradition of progressive politics, a highly organised grassroots campaign, and the virtual absence of any No campaign before or on referendum day.
All 11 booths in Brunswick recorded Yes votes of 74.6% or more, and four of them had results of more than 85%.
The Brunswick pre-poll centre also had a high Yes result of 69.5% from 14,174 votes cast before referendum day.
Yes won all but two of the 35 voting booths in Wills on Saturday.
But in a blow to hopes for formal recognition of an Indigenous Voice in the constitution, Wills was one of just 33 electorates out of 151 around Australia that voted Yes.
At the close of counting on Sunday, the Yes vote in Wills was sixth highest in Australia and third in Victoria. Melbourne to the south had the highest Yes vote of any electorate at 77.4%, and Cooper to the east recorded 65% support.
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Wills MHR Peter Khalil said he was very disappointed with the national result, but pleased Wills had recorded a strong Yes vote.
Khalil said he had always expected Brunswick to vote strongly for a Voice to Parliament, and a lot of effort had been put into achieving a good result in northern parts of the electorate, particularly in migrant communities.
He said the referendum had always faced an uphill battle once Opposition Leader Peter Dutton refused to give it bipartisan support and colluded in a scare campaign against the Voice.
“I think we had a very good ground campaign in Wills,” Khalil said.
“I think the Yes23 campaign doorknocked over 40% of the electorate, which is significant.
“I really focused my attention not so much in the sort of southern part of the electorate and Brunswick where probably you expect a strong Yes vote, but out north with the migrant communities explaining to different faith leaders, community leaders what it meant.
“I think that work paid off, because people got to understand what this was about, and why it was such an important thing for improving the outcomes for Indigenous Australians, [and] they kind of reflected on themselves as well.”
The State MP for Brunswick, Tim Read, said while the state and national results were disappointing, the high Yes vote in his electorate reflected the values of the majority of local residents.
“I’m obviously very proud of the results we got in in Brunswick and Wills and in [the federal electorate of] Melbourne [which overlaps with Brunswick],” he said.
Brunswick-based Northern Metropolitan MLC Sheena Watt – the only current Indigenous Member of Victoria’s Parliament – was not available for comment on Sunday, but in a social media post on Saturday night said she was “simply devastated” by the outcome.
“This was a pivotal moment in our journey towards reconciliation and healing, and it’s heart breaking to see the result not go our way,” she wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
“I’m hurting tonight. I’m hurting not just for me but for my elders and all those who have fought for this for decades.”
‘No-brainer’ to vote Yes
Outside the Merri-bek Primary School booth on Saturday morning, Ellen McGregor said she had no hesitation in voting Yes.
“I think it’s essential that First Nations people have a Voice to Parliament,” she said. “It’s an absolute no-brainer.”
Her partner, Henry Travers, said his decision to vote Yes had been based on reading the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Also voting Yes at Merri-bek Primary was Sham Waadhw.
“This land belonged to these people so they should have a Voice to Parliament,” he said.
Milly Melchior who was handing out how to vote cards for Yes said the Voice was “what Australia needs”.
“I think this is a fantastic opportunity for us to make some first steps towards meaningful change,” she said.
Yes voters Henry Travers and Ellen McGregor and Rachael and Stuart Saville at the Merri-bek Primary School booth.
But Roger Alhaj of Carlton, who volunteered for the No campaign at Brunswick South Primary School, said the Voice was too divisive.
“I want Australia to stay united,” he said.
“I have the same goals as people on the Yes side, just a different view on the mechanism. The goals are not up for debate, it’s how it’s done, and I don’t think this [the Voice] is the best solution.”
Alhaj was one of the few No volunteers spotted in Brunswick on Saturday, with signage for No also virtually non-existent, but he said there had been no friction with Yes volunteers or voters.
“To be honest, people are very kind and civil,” he said. “We have been helping out each other. It’s nice civic democracy.”
Khalil said it was important to remember that the Voice to Parliament alone would not have solved the disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians for health, education, housing and high levels of incarceration.
He said the referendum had at least focused more attention on these problems so they could no longer be ignored by non-Indigenous Australians.
“I would say to people who voted Yes that they should still have hope that we can, as a community and as a society, work with First Nations people to improve outcomes,” he said.
“We won’t have those mechanisms like the Voice to Parliament in that structured way, but they should know that the Albanese government is fully committed to closing the gap.
“We’re going to keep working on this, keep putting it as a focus of our policy and our government’s objectives so they should have hope that what they’ve done, the campaigning they’re involved with and the support that they gave means something and will continue to drive momentum for a better future for Indigenous Australians.”
Read also urged people who had volunteered or voted for Yes not to give up hope.
“While we shouldn’t ignore or downplay the depressing nature of the result, we shouldn’t be distracted from the many important jobs at hand, the bigger body of work at hand, to improve the lives of First Nations people,” he said.
“The silver lining is that we showed with this campaign that progressive campaigners – Greens and Labor – can work together. And perhaps we can put that to work in other ways of improving the lives of First Nations people.”
Read said an example of practical policy that could make a difference was raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 years.
Wills for Yes spokesperson Rebecca McCann said the campaign had about 1100 volunteers by referendum day.
After a brief hiatus, Wills for Yes is planning to bring volunteers together later this month to discuss how to continue to support better outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
“One of the absolute front of mind issues is how do we continue to nurture and organise as a community those supporters of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination because we have over 1000 volunteers in Wills who have said they support what Indigenous people are asking for,” McCann said before referendum day.
“It would be a tragedy if that goes away and I don’t think it will. I know regardless of the outcome of the count it’s going to be a different story going forward for how non-Indigenous Australians engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Disclaimer: The author was a volunteer for Wills for Yes.