Volunteers help give voice to the ‘Yes’ campaign

Posted on 30 Aug 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Aunty Sandy Mundi Mundi
YES Community Facilitators' Network volunteer Anne Duggan (far left) spreads the word on the Voice at Broken Hill's Mundi Mundi Bash festival.

Anne Duggan can accept that Australians have different views on the merits of a First Nations Voice to Parliament.

What she finds difficult to swallow is denying people access to information that would allow them to make an informed decision in the upcoming referendum.

As a volunteer member of the Yes Community Facilitators Network, Anne has devoted months to educating and advocating to older Australians and ethnic communities on the importance of constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians.

She and her band of fellow retired educators and community activists facilitate forums, lead fact-based discussions and support community groups and individuals in their efforts to spread the Yes campaign message.

While people aged over 55 were initially receptive, she said the increasingly divisive nature of the Voice debate has made the network’s task more difficult.

“I think there’ a little bit of gatekeeping going on in in some organisations in terms of getting information to older people,” said Anne.

She said a trend had begun to emerge where some aged care facilities and retirement homes have rejected requests to host sessions on the Voice because it was deemed “too political”.

“That concerns me. I think that’s a little bit demeaning and insulting to the intelligence of older people,” said Anne, a 67-year-old former educator in the union movement.

“I think people have a right to the information.”

Coburg Arabic Lebanese session with Jenne Perlstein
YES Community Facilitators' Network volunteer Jenee Perlstein hosts an information session for Lebanese Australians at a community centre in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg.

Anne and her colleagues support the wider Yes23 campaign with grassroots community-based activities aimed at engaging a demographic often perceived to be starved of information.

Her travels have taken her from her all over country Victoria and NSW, and she spoke to the Community Advocate from the remote outback town of Bourke, 800km northwest of Sydney.

Anne said while there is solid support for the Yes campaign among younger Australians and city dwellers, many senior citizens, particularly in rural areas, have proved tougher nuts to crack.

While she attributes this partly to generational differences and a lack of engagement with social media, Anne maintains many mature age Australians have an open mind on the Voice – if only they can access the right information.

“Young people I think are a lot more interested in this than the older generation.

“I think they [over 55’s] are a lot more resistant to change.”

Despite these barriers and falling support in the polls for the Yes vote, Anne remains confident and is far from ready to give up the fight.

“We do get community groups asking us for assistance for their initiatives like train the trainer sessions on how to run conversations [on the Voice],” she said.

“We try to get into senior citizens centres, places where older people live and socialise.”

“They’re not necessarily ‘no’ voters. They’re just undecided because they haven’t had the information.”

Much of Anne and her fellow volunteers’ efforts are invested in myth-busting and countering misinformation.

“They’re not necessarily ‘no’ voters. They’re just undecided because they haven’t had the information.”

When older Australians do have the facts laid out before them, Anne has been heartened by their positive response, she said.

“It’s important to understand that once people get a little bit older, that doesn’t mean that their brain stops working and they don’t want to participate in community activities,” said Anne.

“They want to have their opinions heard; they want to receive information. Even though you might have one or two not convinced or on the fence, they really appreciate being consulted and receiving the information in a respectful way.”

Whatever the referendum result, Anne said the Voice campaign was a testament to the power of grassroots community engagement to make a real difference.

Yes campaign

“There are a huge number of volunteers out there having conversations every day. At train stations and shopping centres and kitchen table conversations.

“The initiatives are spread right throughout the community.”

Anne said she knew education was key to winning the Voice referendum after attending the Yes campaign launch in Adelaide back in February.

“It was pretty clear from the [Aboriginal] elders who were running the way the campaign would roll out, not to make this a political exercise, but one where it’s positive and one where it is about education,” she said.

“Because they want positive outcomes.”

To that end, Anne is dismissive of the negative “if you don’t know, vote no” campaign.

“I think it’s really insulting. If you don’t know then you find out!” she said.

“I think they should be saying ‘yes, I want to know.’

“That’s a much more dignified and respectful way to treat people.”

More information

Thomas Mayo: What the Voice means to me

Community sector leaders create a coalition for 'Yes' vote on Voice

The Uluru Statement from the Heart

Reconciliation Australia

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