Restoring trust is a must after divisive Voice debate

Posted on 11 Oct 2023

By David Crosbie, CEO, Community Council for Australia


Charities and not-for-profits can play an important role in healing the fractures in society, says Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie.

Almost ten years ago when Community Council for Australia (CCA) chair Tim Costello addressed the National Press Club to release a new report on our sector, he said,

“The trust deficit is more important than the budget deficit – rebuilding broken ties in the fabric of our communities is a very expensive and time-consuming exercise.”

So, who is going to pay the bill to repair trust in Australia after the Voice referendum?

The Voice referendum stems from an invitation from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to walk more closely together in working towards a better future for all of us.

It is hard to see why anyone would oppose such a positive proposal. It poses no threat, no risk, offers no unfair advantage, but requires only that we listen to the voices of Indigenous people in relation to policies impacting their communities.

It’s hard to accept that politicians who know the true nature of the consultative process behind the formulation of the Voice referendum proposal would publicly lie about where the Voice proposal comes from and what it represents.

But lie they have - even calling the Voice "the Albanese Voice" - a total misrepresentation of the over 100 community consultations and 4000 submissions that informed the Voice proposal.

The leaders of the No campaign have muddied the waters so they can claim it is unclear or too deep.

They act like they know better what will address entrenched Indigenous disadvantage and discrimination, but they offer nothing.

David Crosbie
Community Council for Australia CEO, David Crosbie.

They claim that Indigenous people are already in some way advantaged through additional funding, that colonisation has delivered only benefits to Indigenous people, and that the largest ever consensus of Indigenous people is all wrong about what they and their communities need.

The cost is not just division, but a sense of uncertainty and even fear. Who to believe when media commentators, politicians and would-be prime ministers knowingly promote lies and misinformation?

A fellow dog park regular recently told me that he didn’t believe the majority of Indigenous people supported the Voice, or that the Uluru statement from the Heart was one page.

There are reports this week of No campaigners handing out pens to mark the ballot paper at pre-polling stations because they believe Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) staff may rub out pencil votes and change No votes to Yes votes.

Who do we trust if we don’t trust the AEC? The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer concluded that in Australia no institution is trusted.

Yet trust is probably the most important commodity that charities trade in. So much so that those of us who helped frame the establishment of the charities regulator – the Australian

Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) – ensured that promoting trust was the first of its three core objectives: maintain, protect and enhance public trust and confidence in the Australian not-for-profit sector.

"Charities and NFPs can tell the stories and demonstrate how remarkable Australians can be in connecting with and supporting each other."

Regardless of the outcome of the Voice referendum this weekend, the events of the past month have now clearly set us all a challenge, the challenge alluded to by CCA chair Tim Costello ten years ago – to rebuild the broken fabric of ties in our communities.

The good news is that this is what charities and community groups do well, bringing people together around shared values, facilitating connections between people, building hope and possibilities in the lives of individuals, families and communities.

If charities and NFPs are the glue that hold communities together in good times and bad, now may well be the time to focus on that work and highlight how we can make a real difference in helping rebuild trust across many different parts of our communities.

Much of this work will be business as usual by charities and NFPs, but some may choose to make a special effort over the coming months given the damage done by divisive hyper partisan political campaigning.

Our economy, our wellbeing, our democracy, our capacity to achieve positive outcomes are all grounded in a level of trust between people, trust that some have deliberately undermined through self-serving campaigns promoting uncertainty, fear and resentment.

Charities and NFPs can tell the stories of and demonstrate how remarkable Australians can be in connecting with and supporting each other.

There are few things in life or in our nation more valuable than rebuilding trust and the capacity for collective action to strengthen our communities.

Perhaps now is a good time to share more of our stories?

David Crosbie has been CEO of the Community Council for Australia for the past decade and has spent more than a quarter of a century leading significant not-for-profit organisations, including the Mental Health Council of Australia, the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and Odyssey House Victoria.

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