It’s been nearly a month since the Voice referendum. After such an intense period where it was part of nearly every conversation we had, we now sit in comparative silence.
Yet there is a lingering sense of guilt and shame embedded deep in our national psyche.
Regardless of how you voted, it is hard to ignore the uncomfortable truths the referendum brought into focus about how Australia treats First Nations people.
As First Nations Australians process the result, non-Indigenous people can use this time as an opportunity to find lessons in this outcome to reinforce their commitment to positive change.
Now, with an even greater sense of urgency, we must actively listen to First Nations Australians and take proactive steps to support reconciliation so that we can bring about real, tangible outcomes.
This time remains an opportunity to continue the conversation and work towards increased unity and understanding, so that together we can continue to build a nation that works to heal historical harm and respects every voice.
Now is the time to redouble our efforts and reflect on the learnings we can take from this referendum.
Here are a few of DCA’s key takeaways:
Support for reconciliation is stronger than ever
The referendum outcome is not the only measure of Australia’s commitment to reconciliation.
Our country’s biggest corporations overwhelmingly supported the Voice despite significant push-back and condemnation from the No Campaign. The ‘big four’ banks stood alongside grocery giants Woolworths and Coles, along with Wesfarmers, Telstra, Qantas, BHP, Rio Tinto, and countless unions, NFPs, NGOs, sporting legends and celebrities to proclaim their support for better outcomes for First Nations people.
Organisations can continue this momentum and use this result, not as a barometer for support, but as a signal to strengthen their inclusivity efforts, engage in affirmative action, and step up support for First Nations employees.
Your organisation’s Reconciliation Action Plan is as important as ever. Moving forward, we will need healing and unity, a demonstrated commitment to reconciliation, a roadmap for positive change addressing systemic issues, and true, measurable progress.
Education, truth-telling, and reconciliation as a human right
More than anything, the referendum demonstrated the need for truth-telling. We must recognise the correlation between our nation’s disturbing history and the injustices that continue to play out today.
Many Australians lack an understanding of the inequalities First Nations people face and the systemic issues that cause these disparities.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are estimated to live around eight years less than non-Indigenous Australians (8.6 years for males and 7.8 years for females). They are 23% more likely to be unemployed, twice as likely to experience workplace discrimination and/or harassment and have a suicide rate that sits at double that of non-Indigenous people.
These are sobering facts that we cannot shy away from. Despite the rhetoric surrounding the Voice referendum, reconciliation must not be seen as a political issue – it’s a human rights issue.
The necessity of such a referendum begs the question of why the fundamental rights of First Nations people required us to cast a vote.
We cannot hope to improve outcomes for First Nations people without an understanding of their historical context.
Read more about the importance of recognising community truth-telling commitments.
We need to talk about race and racism in Australia
The referendum undoubtedly stoked racial tensions in Australia and exposed First Nations people to increased racism in the media and day-to-day life.
For Australians, talking about racism can be tricky. As a nation, we have a difficult relationship with talking about race – for a long time (even in the diversity and inclusion space) we have talked about “cultural diversity”, and “exclusion” but rarely “racism”.
One of the key findings in our 2022 Racism at Work report is that we cannot expect to address racism in our society unless we are willing to name it.
Eradicating racism requires more than just passively claiming to be non-racist – it requires anti-racism. This means actively standing up to and challenging racism.
Read DCA’s Organisational Framework for Anti-Racism Action.
Centring First Nations voices
This time remains an opportunity to carry on the promise of the Voice by centring and uplifting First Nations voices, implementing recommendations from reports authored by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and supporting self-determination.
DCA aims to centre lived experiences in everything we do, including consulting with lived experience advisory panels and external organisations. As such, we recommend following the advice and cues of First Nations-led organisations.
Remember, centring voice should not contribute to identity strain or cultural load for First Nations employees.
Some suggestions from Reconciliation Australia include communicating your organisation’s pledge to reconciliation and reaffirming your support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
You can read more recommendations from Reconciliation Australia here.