A campaign to combat misinformation and promote a Voice to parliament will launch in the Illawarra this weekend as the local community joins a nationwide push for better representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in parliament.
With less than six months until the referendum, Jaymee Beveridge, executive director of Indigenous strategy and engagement at the University of Wollongong, said it was important that people understood what they were voting for and that the Voice was not something to fear.
“It’s quite apparent that a lot of people aren’t well informed,” Jaymee said. “I had a woman come up to me recently and say, ‘To be completely honest I’m lazy when it comes to politics but this seems really confusing’.
“Essentially, it’s providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with an entity or a space to actually review policy, legislation, funding and provide advice and guidance to government – nothing more, nothing less.”
She said there was previously a void in local campaigning until some non-Indigenous members of the community reached out to show their support.
“It’s incredible to see the community leading this and allies doing the heavy lifting,” she said. “Walking beside us when they feel it’s right, leading when they understand that’s the right thing to do but also being behind us.”
YES23 volunteers like Jeremy Lasek chose the University of Wollongong to host the event, because the institution was one of the first to speak in support of the referendum and ‘Yes’ vote.
“It’s so appropriate the Illawarra launch of the of Yes campaign is taking place at UOW,” Jeremy said. “Earlier this year, UOW demonstrated courage and leadership by publicly throwing its support behind our First Nations people finally receiving recognition in our constitution and receiving a Voice to Parliament.”
“We are now calling on others – individuals, businesses, church groups, charities, sporting and community organisations to get behind the Yes campaign and encourage everyone to vote.”
Event organisers and hosts are expecting a diverse turnout at the launch, which will also be an opportunity for people to ask questions and debunk myths.
“You will hear from non-Indigenous people, and Indigenous people, about what this means and what this could mean for our community,” Jaymee said.
The vote, which will take place before the end of this year, will decide whether the presence of a federal advisory board of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be enshrined in the constitution to allow Indigenous people to have greater representation and have their voices heard in parliament.
“In 1967 the Australian voters showed that they saw us, and this referendum could potentially mean that the Australian voters want to hear us,” Jaymee said.
But with such a public campaign she’s concerned that the issue could become political and confusing.
“It does worry me that people won’t be kind and won’t be considered when sharing their voice,” she said. “But I do just hope that humanity will prevail and people will at least be conscious of the impact this could have on other individuals.”
And she hoped our region’s reputation for tolerance and inclusivity shines through and the community supports the campaign.
“The Illawarra has such a long history of multiculturalism and diversity and that sense of community and inclusive behaviour,” Jaymee said. “People opened their arms to others and I hope that the nation can do that, and the Illawarra can do that again.”
The campaign will launch at 11 am on Sunday, 2 July at the University of Wollongong’s Hope Theatre.