[Historian Bain Attwood on the 1967 referendum said:]
“The campaigners presented their case in such a way that white Australians could feel that by voting Yes they were bestowing on Aboriginal people the same rights and privileges they had and were thereby enabling them to become Australians just like them.” …
This was the racial mindset that delivered the 90 per cent vote. Yes campaigners were rejecting the idea of racial differences. Attwood said: “The white campaigners held that Aboriginal people would be better off if all Australians could largely transcend a sense of being racially or culturally different. Aboriginal people were to be assimilated into a common Australian culture. While they might remain different, their cultural difference was not considered to be terribly significant.”
The demand was for “equal rights” — that’s what the notion of citizenship meant. It was the sheer power of the Australian ethic of equality, regardless of race, that drove the result.
Nothing could be more different between 1967 and 2023.
The referendum today is put by a Labor government, the Prime Minister leads the campaign, there is no bipartisanship, the Coalition is formally opposed, the issue is riven by partisan politics, Aboriginal Australians spearhead both the Yes and No sides, the idea of a voice is founded in the belief of group special rights in the Constitution and these special rights are seen to be indispensable in addressing Aboriginal disadvantage.
Addressing contemporary attitudes towards race, Attwood said: “Unlike in 1967, racial difference — or what some might prefer to call cultural difference — is regarded as something to be embraced, nurtured, celebrated. To be different and to be regarded as different is, in large part, no longer seen by most people as something bad but as something good.”
As Attwood said, the rights now sought, and having been sought for some time, are not the rights of all Australians irrespective of their differences. They are not equal rights “but Indigenous rights; that is, the rights that only Indigenous people can claim on the basis of the fact that they trace at least some of their ancestry to the original or Aboriginal peoples of this land”. …
The sophistry of those who think they are morally superior by voting yes:
The further extraordinary claim now being made by some Yes supporters is that the 2023 referendum has nothing to do with race. Indeed, this emerges as the latest tactical response by the Yes case to confront the referendum’s apparently insuperable problem: public reservations about how far the idea of special racial and cultural rights should be pushed in Australia.
The entire No case rests upon this reservation.
For several decades the issue of the Indigenous people has been tied to the quest for racial justice and racial non-discrimination. Pretending the voice has nothing to do with race is a sophistry lost on most Australians. There are two truths about the voice – it is about the First Nations people and it is about race.
The voice proposal is morally wrong because it is racist, and most Australians see that.
Our leaders in 1967 were morally good, but our leaders in 2023 have lost their minds.