One of the key figures behind the Indigenous Voice to Parliament has blamed Australians’ ‘hatred of politicians’ for the measure’s failure.
UNSW Professor of Law Megan Davis, who said she had spent 12 years working on the proposal, argues making politicians ‘too front and centre’ was a fatal mistake for the Yes campaign.
While she said racism played a part, the deciding factor was the ‘tornado-like force’ of Australia’s hatred of politicians that the Yes campaign just couldn’t overcome.
Professor Davis said the disappointment of referendum night, when it became clear the Voice was rejected by over 60 per cent of the electorate as it failed to win a majority in any state, still stung.
UNSW Professor of Law Megan Davis said the Indigenous Voice to Parliament was something she worked on for 12 years
‘It was brutal. It was like a funeral. It was just awful. The whole thing was awful,’ she told the Australian Financial Review.
In the bitter aftermath, Professor Davis said she couldn’t even call her mother for two days.
She also confessed to wanting to hide away and not even wanting to venture out to receive an award for ‘Powerhouse of the Year’ at Marie Claire’s 2023 Women of the Year Awards on November 21.
‘I can assure you I was ‘under the Doona’ right up until the time I had to leave [home],’ Professor Davis said, even though going out proved to be ‘really healthy for me’.
An unlikely thing that continues to give her hope is the high demand for T-shirts endorsing the Voice foundation document, the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which she helped write after the 2017 First Nations National Constitutional Convention.
‘People act like we didn’t lose, that we are still on the journey,’ she said.
‘They expect us to keep going.’
Professor Davis said the crush disappointment of referendum night, when it became clear the Voice had been resoundingly rejected, was like ‘a funeral’
‘Aussies are sending all these really nice letters and cards to my office, with, like, little crocheted hearts and pictures and drawings with stuff from the day after, saying, ‘I don’t know what to say’.’
Professor Davis still gained some hope from the measure being supported by 39.4 per cent of voters.
‘We need to start engaging with that six million. What does that look like? What is it that we want?,’ she told the Australian Financial Review in her first extensive interview since the referendum’s defeat on October 14.
‘What we have now is a movement. And we didn’t have that before the referendum.’
‘Uluru (Statement from the Heart) was always meant to be grassroots.
‘These groups are not led by anyone, not directed by anyone. They’re just ordinary Aussies in their communities, who are as devastated as we are and want change.’
Professor Davis also revealed that she shares, at least in part, some of Australia’s distrust in politicians.
‘At the ballot box, we are selecting representatives who aren’t necessarily representing the interests of their constituents … they are almost beholden to interests that aren’t the interests that elected them,’ she said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (pictured centre) took the political lead in pushing the case for Voice
She argued the lack of faith Australians have in their politicians and institutions is partly masked by compulsory voting, which leads to a favourable climate for ‘misinformation’.
Led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese Labor leaders and MPs advocated strongly for the Voice and the Teals and Greens also supported it.
The Coalition opposed it, with Jacinta Nampijinpa Price being a leading No campaigner, but there were some notable dissenters, such as former Shadow Indigenous Affairs spokesperson Julian Leeser.
Professor Davis accused the Coalition of being opportunist.
‘The Coalition’s stance was about electoral fortunes, not good governance or recognition,’ she said.
She also blamed ‘political ideology’ saying the Voice, which had been Coalition policy, became an ‘ideological football’.
She remains committed to structural change in government to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians because anything else is ‘tinkering at the edges and ‘hoping you will make a difference’.
The professor has thrown herself into co-authoring a book with UNSW colleague Gabrielle Appleby on the legal aspects of the referendum.
She is also collaborating on a collection of essays with Sana Nakata of the Indigenous Education and Research Centre, at Townsville’s James Cook University.