A recent event held at La Trobe University provided an opportunity to reflect and engage with the lived experience and public perceptions of the Voice to Parliament referendum as seen through the personal perspectives of First Nations staff and community leaders, along with insights into the campaign from political communications experts.
Facilitated by Professor Julie Andrews OAM (Academic Director, Indigenous Research), the panel featured Associate Professor Michael Donovan, La Trobe’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous); Jill Gallagher AO, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation; and Professor Andrea Carson, political scientist and journalism scholar.
Sharing their own experiences and stories of past generations, our speakers explored what it has been like for community leaders and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to experience the intense public attention in the lead up to the referendum, both online and offline.
‘Blatant racism is painful. It hurts. After 230 years, can you imagine what it does to someone’s soul?’
They also addressed the how the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community might come together after the referendum to take stock, heal and move forward.
Professor Donovan spoke the value of critical thinking, emphasising how vital it is to engage with what’s happening in students lives and to make space for discussion. That way, important subjects are clearly understood as lived experiences and don’t exist as abstract concepts in the distance or historical past.
‘Use the teaching experience to inform, guide, direct. Allow people the opportunity to talk.’
He also highlighted the central role that the higher education sector plays in giving people the opportunity to contribute to informed discussions and informed choices, not just debate. Presenting information in such a way that it gives people the ability to choose. Perhaps most importantly, he said that equipping society with the capacity to identify misinformation and falsehoods, ‘are important skills to have in the population’.
The panelists also considered how the journey toward referendum has shaped the development of the University’s new Indigenous Strategy.
Exploring how Australian body politic has been shaped by this debate, Professor Carson outlined how she and her team have tracked the evolution of public sentiment, taking stock of not only the polls, social media and media commentary, but also revealing data-driven insights into how the Yes and No campaigns have influenced different demographics, what messages have cut through, how much each campaign has spent on advertising, and the increasing prevalence of mis- and disinformation.
‘We’re talking past each other rather than engaging with each other in the media space.’
Finally, the panel worked through questions from the community, including their thoughts on the ‘radical no vote’, the international impact of the referendum, the ‘contamination of the information ecosystem’, the treaty process in Victoria, and how to hold courage and maintain forward momentum when the pace of change seems so slow.
‘If we are unsuccessful [in the referendum], Aboriginal communities will continue to fight for whatever influence we’ve got at the tables of power,’ concluded Jill Gallagher.
WATCH the full discussion below.
La Trobe University’s Indigenous Strategy demonstrates the University’s commitment to walk with First Nations Australians, continuing the process of reconciliation, truth telling and treaty making.
Our joint vision is of an institution where Indigenous leadership, self-determination and knowledges thrive, for the benefit of Indigenous students, staff and communities into 2030, and beyond.