A Torres Strait Islander man who campaigns 20 hours a week for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament on top of his full-time job insists the feeling on the ground defies opinion polls predicting a No victory.
Gav Harris, who lives in western Sydney, is desperately hoping Australians will support enshrining the proposed Indigenous advisory body in the constitution at the October 14 referendum.
The polls are predicting a crushing defeat, the latest Newspoll has support at just 36 per cent and Resolve is polling support at 43 per cent, but Gav thinks it’s still too early to make a say who will win.
Gav argues many voters are undecided or indifferent and ‘there’s a lot more support than negative feedback’.
The referendum has turned Gav’s life upside down. He volunteers up to 20 hours each week on top of his full-time job and family commitments.
It’s an exhausting task, but one that, to Gav, is absolutely necessary.
‘It’s about waking up after the referendum, win or lose, and knowing that you did everything you could,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘When I ask myself ”could you have done better?”, ”did you do enough?” I can know that I did all that I could.’
Whatever the result of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament on October 14, Gav Harris will sleep well that night
The Torres Strait Island man who now lives in Western Sydney is desperately hoping Australians will step up for First Nations people at the polls
Gav said a No vote would be a devastating outcome for him and for Australia, but that his conscience would be clear knowing that he did everything he could.
The grandfather said a Voice would likely make very little difference to his own personal situation, but it could be a great thing for the lives of his grandchildren, nieces and nephews in the future.
The official Yes23 campaign has 37,000 volunteers across the nation. They’re doing letterbox drops, speaking to commuters at train stations and doorknocking homes.
Gav focuses on his patch of western Sydney – campaigning in areas such as Toongabbie, Pendle Hill, Parramatta and Westmead.
He sets his alarm for 5am each day to get a few solid hours in before heading to work.
Some days, he’ll head back out after work.
He likes to be home to cook dinner if it’s possible, but his family understands his commitment to the referendum.
They don’t hold grudges if he gets caught up on the road longer than he expected.
‘It’s just one of those things, we had a family meeting before this all ramped up… It’s important to know when it’s time to rest, but this is only for a limited time and we all know that.’
In western Sydney, Gav (pictured in yellow next to federal MP for Parramatta Andrew Charlton) has noticed plenty of enthusiasm for the proposal
Right now, the Voice is on track for defeat in every state except Tasmania
That’s not to say Gav is missing out on important moments. He has nailed the art of juggling his commitments.
‘My granddaughter’s christening was last weekend. I didn’t miss that, but I could still have conversations about the referendum, I could still get in some letterboxing in the morning and in the evening,’ he said.
To keep himself from burning out entirely, Gav has a strict bedtime of 10pm.
Support for the Voice is plummeting in the official polls.
Just over a third of Australians – 36 per cent – say they will vote Yes to the Voice to Parliament, according to the Newspoll survey of 1,239 voters.
It marks a two-point fall in the past three weeks – the lowest level yet for the beleaguered Yes campaign.
Meanwhile, opposition to the historic referendum has risen slightly to 56 per cent with less than three weeks until polling day.
Gav said a No vote would be a devastating outcome for him and for Australia, but that his conscience would be clear knowing that he did all he could for his community
The swing towards No is seen most age groups and demographics. The biggest shift is among women and younger voters who have previously been the strongest supporters of the Voice.
But Gav says this doesn’t reflect the conversations he and his fellow volunteers are having on the ground.
In western Sydney, Gav has noticed plenty of enthusiasm for the proposal.
‘People will say they’re already voting Yes, or they’ll smile, they’ll beep their horns from their cars. I’d say there’s a lot more support than negative feedback,’ he said.
But another common reaction is simply confusion or a lack of interest.
‘The undecided vote is still huge,’ he said. ‘People are still disengaged.’
These are the people the Yes23 campaign thinks are the key to turning the tide.
While cost of living pressures and other factors remain at the forefront of everyday Aussies’ minds, as the referendum date nears people will inevitably start to ask more questions.
Gav accepts the referendum and the proposal could have been managed better within Canberra to better reassure the community
‘And it’s my task to have the answers and get that message across,’ Gav says.
‘As far as Indigenous affairs is concerned, the Voice is a real turning point for this country. It’s a great moment for Australia.
‘You’ll get consistent advice for programs, the expenditure will be targeted. It’s going to save money in the long run.’
But Gav accepts the referendum and the proposal could have been managed better to better reassure the community.
He criticised the Coalition for failing to offer bipartisan support for the Voice, noting it was the Liberal National government which commissioned the Calma-Langton report, which offers an explanation of how the Voice might work in practice.
‘The initial spirit of the Voice has been deflated a bit… It definitely could’ve been handled better, so that is a bit disappointing.’