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Catholics recommit to practical reconciliation after Voice referendum defeat

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Uluru, Northern Territory. PHOTO: Joanna Penn, cc by 2.0

Following the defeat of the Voice to Parliament at the 14 October referendum, Australians must “avoid the temptations of both triumphalism and defeatism” and recommit to coming together in genuine charity, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has said.

In a statement from Rome, where he is participating in the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Fisher said, “The outcome of the referendum has understandably left many people wondering ‘what now’ for relations with Indigenous Australians.”

“My sincere hope is that the defeat of this particular proposal—a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament—is not understood as a rejection of the ongoing process of reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

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“Whatever your vote, we must avoid the temptations of both triumphalism and defeatism and recognise that the task of ensuring better outcomes for Indigenous people can only be advanced if we come together as Australians in genuine charity and recommit ourselves to closing the gap of disadvantage that Indigenous Australians face.

“The obligation on us all, and particularly Catholics informed by the Gospel and the social teaching of the church, is to affirm and uphold the dignity of every human person; to seek unity and reconciliation in circumstances where division and conflict are present; and to work together for the flourishing of all people regardless of race, belief or background.”

“The obligation on us all, and particularly Catholics informed by the Gospel and the social teaching of the church, is to affirm and uphold the dignity of every human person; to seek unity and reconciliation in circumstances where division and conflict are present; and to work together for the flourishing of all people regardless of race, belief or background.”

The proposal to establish a First Nations Voice to Parliament was defeated with 60 per cent of the votes cast for No at the time of publication.

The only jurisdiction that voted in favour of the proposal was the Australian Capital Territory.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council’s post-referendum statement said that “an unsuccessful outcome to the Voice to Parliament referendum is just another challenge that we will face with dignity, respect and without losing hope.”

They warned that Australians “must not accept” that the decision by Australians to vote No “signals the end of the journey.”

“We now call on those that espoused alternatives to champion Indigenous-led ideas and initiatives that will address these practical issues, and for all people in this country to work for reconciliation,” the NATSICC statement said.

“Fear, confusion, and misinformation has impacted relationships between communities, families and friendships. The biggest tragedy we face as a nation is to hold onto resentment and disagreements, allowing them to fester and divide us further.

“As Colossians 3:13 says, ‘Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.’

“Embracing this spirit of forgiveness can pave the way for shared healing and unity.”
Bishop Charles Gauci of Darwin, chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, said the end of the Voice campaign should be seen as a “time for a new beginning.”

“After such a vote, there can be a tendency to attribute bad motives to people with whom we disagree, to move to blame and recrimination, to revel in victory or despair in defeat.

“Instead, we suggest that well-intentioned people looking at the same material can come to different conclusions.

“But the overwhelming consensus coming out of the debate is that more should be done to address the injustice experienced by so many First Nations people.”

Voice architect and former Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor, Emeritus Professor Greg Craven, wrote in The Australian on 16 October that the reality was “self-inflicted defeat.”

“It is quite straightforward to trace the causes for the implosion of the Yes case. Tragically, all were or should have been known to its leaders. But they were denied, derided or discounted,” Professor Craven wrote.

He named eight reasons for the devastating loss: Overconfidence, a refusal to compromise for the sake of bipartisanship, bad advice dominated by activists, a lack of detail, secrecy around drafting, a bad campaign, condescension towards No voters, and a failure of “the political artillery on the Yes side.”

“In reality, we of the Yes lost a referendum that has broken Indigenous hearts,” he wrote.
Leading No campaigner and Catholic Warren Mundine told the ABC on the night of the referendum that the Australian people have won, and the journey towards reconciliation wasn’t over, “just because a proposal that was put forward was rejected by the Australian public.”

“There’s two things I’ve heard in the polling booths and around Australia: One, they want practical outcomes for Indigenous people. They’re sick and tired of governments mucking up things, they want it fixed,” Mr Mundine said.

“Two: they do want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recognised in the constitution, as the first people of this country, and they’re very proud of the Aboriginal people and its history.”

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