Robert Griffith | 16 October 2023
Robert Griffith
16 October 2023

 

Yesterday I woke, the morning after our national referendum, with a deep sense of sorrow and a little anger. I felt like I needed to apologise to all the Indigenous people in our great nation for what is without doubt the single worst decision made by a Prime Minister and a government in my lifetime. My sorrow is not for the outcome of the referendum – I am deeply sorry that the referendum happened at all.

Every Indigenous person in this nation was set up by our Prime Minister’s poor judgement. As you may recall, on the evening of his victory in the Federal Election in May 2022, Anthony Albanese promised to hold this referendum in his first term in office. The moment I heard him make that commitment, my heart sank, as I began to brace myself for the inevitable pain his complete lack of wisdom was about to inflict on our nation.

Before making that commitment, the Prime Minister would have known that 80% of the referendums held in our nation have failed. Therefore, any referendum is incredibly difficult to get across the line. Changing our nation’s Constitution is no easy task, and nor should it be. In all of the eight cases when a referendum was successful, the proposal enjoyed strong bi-partisan support from both sides of Parliament. When our Prime Minister gave a commitment to hold this referendum, he had no such support. So to make this promise to our nation without first securing the support of the whole Parliament, was reprehensible.

But all was not lost. The Prime Minister still had time to convince the Opposition and Cross Bench members before selecting a date and locking in the Referendum. Not only did he fail to achieve that support – he didn’t actually try! The Opposition Leader wrote to the Prime Minister in January this year with a clear list of fifteen questions which he needed answered before he and the Opposition could decide if they would support the referendum. The Prime Minister didn’t even bother replying to the letter. No serious attempt was made to bring the Parliament together and negotiate a process which would have everyone’s support. Even with that support, there was no guarantee the referendum would succeed – but without it, failure was absolutely guaranteed.

Given the inability of the Prime Minister to clearly explain the concept of ‘The Voice to Parliament’ and how it would work, the opinion polls rightly turned against his proposal and before a date was even locked in, the writing on the wall was clear – this flawed initiative was doomed. A responsible Prime Minister would have made the hard decision to stop the whole process at that point and worked closely with all federal members of Parliament to find a way forward which they all supported.

However, with a degree of stubbornness, arrogance and ignorance rarely seen from a Prime Minister in this great nation, Anthony Albanese pressed on, locked in a Referendum date and spent over 400 million dollars of tax-payers money on what he knew deep down was a failed initiative. Why? For no other reason than, “I made a promise …”  Following through with a promise (that should never have been made) became more important than the issue itself. At that point, our Prime Minister made an error in judgement which sabotaged the very thing he supposedly felt so deeply about.

I feel so sorry for the many Indigenous people in this nation who were hanging so much hope on a flawed proposal from an irresponsible government. I also feel sorry for the vast majority of Australians who could not support the Government’s proposal and who have now been demonised and labelled as racist or, at the very least, people who don’t care about our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. That makes me very angry. Thanks, Mr Albanese, for setting up an entire nation and pushing the Aboriginal cause back many years.

What makes this absolutely tragic is that this was all completely avoidable!

This didn’t have to happen and the responsibility lies completely with the Prime Minister and his government. They can blame the Opposition Leader or the media or anyone they like – but the facts are clear. The government’s first responsibility was to convince just 227 Australians – the members of our federal Parliament (both Houses). They were the most important ‘voters’ to get on board, for without them, and their public display of unity, the whole train would derail quickly. The government failed to get just 227 people to agree – how on earth did they think they would convince 17 million voters to get behind their proposal? If the Prime Minister had spent less time shedding tears in the media as he jetted around the nation and more time behind closed doors finding a solution the whole Parliament could support – our nation would be in a very different place today.

I can only hope and pray that we can learn from this painful chapter in our shared journey and deal with such emotive and important issues in the future with far greater wisdom and insight. There are some issues which simply cannot and should not be dealt with politically – they must be dealt with by our united leadership team – the whole Parliament – pulling together in the same direction. Is that hard to achieve? Of course it is. But there is no alternative if we are to see real progress and sustainable, workable outcomes.

So now the blame game has begun. People are pointing fingers everywhere they can to ease the pain of what has happened. The longer that goes on, the more broken our nation will become and the way back from this shameful tragedy may be lost completely for this generation.

A true leader would address the nation right now – in brokenness and humility – and admit that he got it wrong and confess that they should not have put the nation through this. Such a leader would apologise to every Australian and especially to our Indigenous brothers and sisters and make a public commitment to work as a national Parliament and find a better way to move forward and address the real issues which were completely overshadowed by political rhetoric and divisive commentary.

This can be fixed. We can recover. We need a calibre of leadership which has not been seen in our federal Parliament in recent times – but I still believe it’s possible and that’s what I’m praying for now.

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