The Uluru Statement from the Heart was an invitation from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to the Australian public. Shared in 2017, the statement called for the establishment of a First Nations Voice to be permanently included in the Australian Constitution and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise agreement-making and truth-telling about Australian history. The invitation was immediately rejected by the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In May 2022, Anthony Albanese was elected the Prime Minister of Australia and in his victory speech he committed to implement “the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full”.
On 14 October 2023, the Australian public rejected a proposed constitutional alteration which would recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the First Peoples of Australia and establish a Voice to Parliament. The proposed constitutional amendment would have granted the Voice the authority to communicate with both the Parliament and the Executive Government regarding issues related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which could encompass existing or proposed laws, policies, or decisions.
GetUp and Australian Progress have pulled together this messaging guide for social change organisations to respond to the 2023 Voice referendum outcome.
For more comprehensive advice on messaging for First Nations justice please see the First Nations led multi-year research Passing the Message Stick.
Making sense of this moment
The 2023 referendum result has redefined our social movements for justice.
The referendum campaign has shown us we must continue the ongoing work of decolonising our movements and ramp up our activities to counteract far-right actors who are trying to divide us with fear, lies and misinformation.
Solidarity with First Nations communities
The referendum campaign has prompted many social change organisations to get clear about what solidarity means in practice. This Guide provides messages you can use to communicate with your members and supporters.
Standing up against fear and division
This moment requires all of us to actively counter the harmful narratives and expose lies and disinformation. We must not be silent in this moment. If we stay silent while fear and hate is being spread that targets and harms First Nations communities and advocates, we risk allowing Dutton and racist No campaigners to dominate the public agenda and continue the hurt.
1. About the Result
- The referendum result shows us we must double down on our commitments to First Nations justice. We must be vocal about our support for Treaties, Truth-Telling and representation.
- For generations, First Nations communities have fought tirelessly for justice. It’s because of the decades of protest, activism and advocacy that momentum for change has been growing. We cannot allow this result to take us backwards.
- We need to draw a line in the sand and double down on our commitment to long-standing First Nations-led campaigns for justice – truth-telling, treaties, stopping Black deaths in custody, land rights, cultural heritage, ensuring equal access to education and healthcare, self-determination and more.
- First Nations people have always had the solutions to improve their lives and communities. Regardless of the referendum outcome, it is time for state and federal governments to listen to First Nations people. All of us deserve decision-making power over our own lives.
- This referendum is just one moment in an important national conversation about First Nations justice. We need to stand firm, come together and keep the pressure on the Albanese Government to keep the conversation going.
2. Why we were unsuccessful
- The rejection of the Voice was propelled by a well-resourced, racist and assimilationist No campaign led by Peter Dutton, Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine who sparked a national culture war fuelled by lies, fear, and racism – to serve their own political agenda.
- The far-right have capitalised on this moment – importing tactics of mis- and dis-information we’ve seen play out in the US, Europe and beyond.
- This campaign has exposed the underlying racism that exists in our society.
- This is a moment for us to come together and reckon with the story of our nation. The truth of our history is genocide, child removal and dispossession, and First Nations resilience and fights against colonisation.
- The Voice was just one mechanism for change. We know there is widespread support for the principles of self-determination and justice. Now is the time to build momentum. The disinformation shared by the racist No campaign, made it harder to demonstrate how a change to the constitution makes a tangible difference in the lives of First Nations peoples.
- When Peter Dutton came out and campaigned against the Voice we knew it would be very difficult to secure majority support for constitutional change, all successful referendums in the past have had bipartisan support.
- First Nations people have been attacked throughout this campaign, and those attacks are likely to continue afterwards to try to undermine further First Nations advocacy. First Nations leaders and communities deserve time to grieve. We have to show up. Solidarity means we continue campaigning and ease the load of pushing back against attacks on First Nations organisations and campaigns.
- We continue the fight for Treaties. We continue the fight for Truth-telling. We continue the fight for First Nations’ peoples’ right to live free from state coercion and to have a seat at the table when decisions are made.
- For us, this result means getting straight back to work. Working to get barriers out of the way and keep pushing for First Nations people to have a say in decisions that affect their lives.
4. Rejecting fear and division
- We are up against an emboldened far-right movement that will continue spouting fear and division.
- We reject fear and division being used as a political device. We redouble our efforts to fight for justice for all.
- We are stronger together, and must stand up to the few who seek to divide us based on race, class, genders and ability, for their own political gain.
5. Strong movements for change
- Over the past decade, movements for First Nations justice have been growing stronger and thousands of people have volunteered for the first time in this campaign.
- We saw millions of people write Yes. First Nations people have been fighting for justice for centuries and the fight continues. Thank you to all of you that showed up during the campaign. Thank you to those who talked to friends and family members, made calls to undecided voters and handed out on referendum day.
- Australians want transformative change. Transformative change means treaties, truth-telling, land back, decision-making and veto rights, First Nations-led justice and fully resourced Aboriginal community controlled organisations.
- We will keep campaigning for change that realises the aspirations communities have been fighting for for decades. The change that’ll make a real difference to the lives of everyday people.
Do say / don’t say
We do not recommend having a public conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of the Yes campaign. There will be space for evaluations and learning lessons for future campaigns, your ‘hot takes’ are not useful right now.
Instead, we need to focus on capturing the narrative, telling a bigger story for change and laying blame squarely on the people who seek to divide us by race, class, genders and ability for their own political gain.
|Do say…||Don’t say…||Why…|
|All of us deserve to have a genuine say in things that impact our lives. It is time for Governments to listen.||First Nations people don’t get special treatment.||Speak to a shared value and make a demand instead of reinforcing the negative frame.|
|The Nation needs to come together in this moment. We need to learn about our past so we can move forward together and deliver Treaties and Truth-telling and justice.||The public voted against constitutional reform and change for First Nations justice.||Don’t repeat the negative/loss frame. Don’t equate a loss of the referendum with no support for justice. Instead, build a collective ‘we’.|
|The referendum campaign clearly demonstrated the need for truth-telling across this country.||First Nations people are already disadvantaged and will be struggling at this moment.||Deficit language fuels opposition arguments. Don’t speak for First Nations experiences, talk about what needs to happen next.|
|We support First Nations communities in their urgent calls to protect cultural heritage, preserve lands and waters from fracking, Truth-Telling, Treaties and stopping Black deaths in custody.||We will wait and listen to First Nations voices.||We shouldn’t excuse stepping back at this moment. We don’t need to wait to be led by First Nations voices to demonstrate allyship because they have been clear for a long time about what they need on a range of issues.|
|The No campaign lied to the Australian people. The rejection of the Voice was propelled by a ‘No’ campaign filled with lies, hatred, and racism.||The Australian people have spoken. The majority of Australians don’t want to change the constitution but they still care about First Nations justice.||Land the problem with the lies told by the No campaign.
We need to broaden our frame beyond arguments about constitutional change and double down our calls for transformational change.
|Millions of people voted yes, thousands of new people joined our movements and we built commitment to campaigning for First Nations justice.||The YES campaign wasn’t effective.||This is the biggest movement for First Nations Justice in a long time and we need to show that it can achieve many things if this continues on goals that aren’t as difficult as Constitutional change considering the track record of referendums.|
|Peter Dutton campaigned against the Voice to Parliament and sat out the apology to the Stolen Generation. His actions show he does not think First Nations people should be heard or consulted.||Referendums often fail without bipartisan support.||Be clear. Name that Dutton actively campaigned against the Voice.|
|We will build on the progress made. We will campaign for state level Treaties, Truth-telling and justice.||The Uluru Statement must be implemented in full.||It’s stronger to spell out the elements of the Uluru Statement – treaties, truth-telling and representation.|
View the guide
View the full messaging guide.
- Passing the Message Stick: Messages that Build Support for Change on First Nations Justice
- Framing Issues for Social Justice Impact: Directory of Messaging Guides
- How to Change the Narrative / Story
- First Nations Resources: Start Here
- Aboriginal Australians
- Communication - Messaging
- Framing - Guides_Manuals
- Indigenous peoples_First Nations
- Movements_Campaigns - Indigenous Peoples_First Nations rights