By Denis Bright
By year’s end, voters will have delivered their verdict on the Voice Referendum. If supported in four states by a majority of voters, this constitutional change will begin a redefinition of our national culture by a timely reminder of those 60,000 years of Indigenous settlement in the only country which occupies an entire continent.
Mark Ludlow of the AFR has unlocked some of the polling from Freshwater Strategy on the current state of support for the Voice Referendum in Queensland (6 July 2023). The referendum can of course fail in Queensland and still succeed with support from SA and WA as noted in polling results.
Even in Queensland, enthusiastic and informed campaigning for the Yes Case amongst undecided voters can still sway public opinion against opposition from sections of the LNP and Far Right campaigners. In the federal seat of Leichhardt in NQ, with its significant Indigenous population, LNP member Warren Entsch is not supporting the LNP’s official line in opposing the Yes case.
Many voters in Regional Queensland are apathetic about the Yes Case or actively oppose its commitments.
There is also an enormous age divide on the Voice proposal with 72 per cent of Queensland seniors opposed to the constitutional changes. This age divide probably extends to other states and territories.
Missing from the Freshwater polling is any evidence of regional variations in support for the Yes case in Brisbane and SEQ.
Jason McNamara’s Calendar is a reminder of shadows from Queensland’s colonial past on the contemporary landscapes of Ipswich in Queensland. There are similar shadows across most heritage towns and cities in regional Australia. Only time of course will reveal the real impact of these regional variations on the final mix of the forthcoming referendum results. Both the colonial past and our digital future are intangible realities which influence politics in the here and now. Jason McNamara’s calendar from 2017 creatively covers these shadows (Ipswich Leftovers Facebook):
Voters everywhere have access to excellent resources on Indigenous history and culture. The Ipswich Library with the support of the State Archives and the Ipswich City Council offer a fair perspective on the place of Indigenous history and culture. Readers may wish to check out the resources which have been developed by the Ipswich Library.
Previous generations looked selectively but nostalgically at the Colonial Period when Ipswich thrived as a retail hub, coal mining centre, manufacturing and rail transport centre. The railway workshops at North Ipswich with its vast workforce was one of the foundations of local employment and cultural life.
Back in the Chifley era in 1947, the federal government commissioned a promotional film through the Department of Information to foster British interest in emigration to Australia in The New Ipswich.
The emphasis in this promotional documentary was always on the shadows of early British settlement in Ipswich. The history of Ipswich was framed around the arrival of explorer Allan Cunningham in 1828. This historic documentary is available on a number of YouTube sites.
In place of the social reality of a diverse society in our midst, Australians accepted the constitutional package enacted by both houses of the British parliament which were approved by a series of referenda in 1899 on a very limited national franchise. One colony missed the deadline as negotiations continued between the colonial government in WA and the steering committee of the National Convention:
The resultant constitution contained no reference to the Indigenous people who could not vote and were even excluded from the census counts until 1971.
The Australian constitution defined the complex rules of national politics which became the contested political realities of the Federation era (1901-14). Labor was in power federally with a majority in both houses on two occasions before the conscription issue split the Labor movement during the Great War. Both sides of Australian politics accepted the constitutional package without any acknowledgment of all those millennia of Indigenous occupation.
The Labor Movement in Queensland accepted the constitutional package during the Federation Era. It largely ignored Indigenous issues and campaigned for a stricter enforcement of the White Australia Policy and the repatriation of Kanaka labourers.
Against all odds, Ipswich and District in the sprawling Moreton Electorate elected James Wilkinson as its first representative to the national parliament which met in Melbourne until 1927. James Wilkinson survived two terms as an independent Labor member before losing Moreton in 1906 as an endorsed Labor candidate. A former coal miner from Bundamba in Thomas Glassey (1844-1936) moved from state to federal politics as senator for Queensland between 1901-03.
Federation Labor leaders did not stop campaigning for the advancement of their local constituency after an election defeat. The ICC Council and Library note that James Wilkinson operated a printing press adjacent to his home in Martin Street in Ipswich to produce partisan articles for the Labor Party and trade unions. James Wilkinson was an alderman on the ICC at the time of his death in January 1915. The racist attitudes of their sincere commitments are no longer relevant. Join me on a visit to his former residents (Image: ICC Library and Council):
In international affairs, the federation Labor leaders always endorsed Empire-wide strategic policies. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher and former miner at Gympie vowed to defend Australia as part of the British Empire to the last man and the last shilling. However, as Higher Commissioner to London (1916-21), Andrew Fisher would not publicly support the conscription campaigns of Billy Hughes. Labor narrowly lost Andrew Fisher’s safe Labor seat of Wide Bay at the by-election on 11 December 1915. Conservatives had fully mastered the sinister arts of wooing voters in formed Labor heartlands for most of the next generation until the arrival of John Curtin as Opposition Leader in 1935.
The archives from local papers in Ipswich show the depth of racist attitudes towards the management of Indigenous mission settlements at Deebing Creek and Purga.
Indigenous people were contracted out by local landowners when not attending to livestock, farming and repair workshops. Readers are invited to use the resources of Trove to investigate mainstream media coverage of these settlements prior to and after federation. It was always assumed that Indigenous people needed benevolent protectors.
The Voice Referendum offers a way out of a continuation of old-style paternalism. Hopefully, voters in the Ipswich based federal seats of Oxley and Blair will warm to the new It’s Time Message on behalf of Indigenous people who deserve an honoured place in the constitution. However, many of the mindsets from the Federation era are strongly supported particularly in Regional Australia and in some Labor heartland electorates.
The Freshwater Strategy Polling justifies still more commitment to the success of the Voice Referendum which was helped along by the various cultural events of NAIDOC Week. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to right old wrongs.
Denis Bright (pictured) is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.
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