Perspectives From a Migrant and a First Nations Woman Voting ‘Yes’

Australia is undeniably a unique multicultural country with nearly half of its population having at least one parent who was born overseas.

In such a context, the significance of the ‘migrant vote’ in the Voice referendum cannot be overstated. However, as both the Yes and No campaigns vie for migrants’ attention, concerns are being raised around their awareness of what the Voice will mean.

Nearly 70% of migrants and refugees surveyed by AMES Australia reported they were not at all aware or only partly aware of the Voice. With figures like this, is it any wonder that half the respondents also said they were unsure how they will vote on 14 October?

Encouragingly, some polls, such as this one from the Australia Institute, show that migrants are more likely to support the Voice than those born in Australia.

As women from both migrant and First Nations backgrounds, statistics like this bring us hope, and the courage to continue seeking and building support for the Yes vote in our communities, even as misinformation and fear-mongering continues to circulate.

Here is why we are voting Yes:

My Migrant ‘Yes’ vote

As migrants who have chosen to make this land our home, not knowing is not grounds to vote no. It is simply not good enough.

Not while misinformation from both traditional and social media is drumming up confusion about the Voice in our communities.

We have to educate ourselves and stand in solidarity with our First Nations brothers and sisters.

The conservative ‘No’ sayers would have us believe that a vote for the Voice is a vote to permanently enshrine racial privilege of one ‘race’ over any other in Australia. Apparently, voting Yes is the racist position that will not only divide us along racial lines, but in fact, lead to an apartheid Australia.

 They could not be more wrong. A ‘Yes’ vote is in fact an anti-racist vote which seeks to correct the injustices of our colonial past and addresses the ongoing systemic disparities that First Nations Peoples continue to experience in a ‘fair go’ Australia.

Voting ‘Yes’ is how we pledge our support for First Nations peoples’ right to self-determine. Studies tell us that improvement is made when Indigenous-led organisations work within their communities. It is the only way to create systemic anti-racist change that truly supports self-determination and decision-making.

A ‘Yes’ vote is our show of solidarity and commitment as migrants to reject racially discriminatory practices and policies that have been directed towards First Nations peoples historically and that continue to this day.

My First Nations ‘Yes’ vote

As a First Nations woman, I recognise a yes vote from migrants as an act of solidarity in our fight against systemic racism in this country.

A call for Constitutional change to recognise First Nations Peoples in Australia is not new. First Nations people have been advocating for changes to increase Indigenous autonomy and representation since 1926. Now is the time that we can all come together and make that change happen.

If, as a nation, we pride ourselves on the notion of the fair go and equal opportunity for all, then we must stand with more than 80 per cent of Indigenous Australians who support the Voice. We must listen to the wisdom of this overwhelming majority on a reform that directly affects our communities.

The ‘conservative No’ would have us ignore the reality of systemic racism and structural inequities that show why we need the Voice, for example:

  • the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians estimated to be 6 years for males and 7.8 years for females
  • lower employment rate for First Nations people, which, according to the 2021 census was 51 per cent, compared to 74 per cent for non-First Nations Australians
  • the suicide rates for First Nations which are double those of non-Indigenous Australians
  • the 551 Indigenous deaths in custody …

The list can go on. But this cannot continue to be our history, our reality as a nation any longer.

The Voice is an opportunity for Australia to build a brighter, more racially equitable and inclusive future for the next generation, one built on the values of truth, respect, cooperation and mateship that all Australians hold close to their hearts.

Our call to action

On 14 October we will be on the right side of history. We will say ‘Yes’ to reconciliation, healing, unity, and a shared responsibility to address past wrongs.

We will say ‘Yes’ and to the basic rights of dignity and self-determination which First Nations people deserve.

That is how as migrant and First Nations women, we will show our solidarity, our Australian spirit, and dream for a more racially inclusive Australia.

Virginia Mapedzahama (Ph.D) is a first-generation African migrant woman from the Shona peoples of Zimbabwe, and critical race Black feminist scholar who researches and writes about race and ethnicity in Australia. She is currently the Member Education Director at Diversity Council Australia.

Simone Empacher Earl is a proud Awabakal woman who works with various community groups sharing her knowledge and culture. She is Diversity Council Australia’s Aboriginal advisor providing guidance to both the team and members on all Indigenous matters. Simone is also the Diversity Council Australia Reconciliation Action working group Chair.