Melbourne student Harrison Lal has a firm stance on how he will be voting in the upcoming referendum for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.
“I’ll be straight up, I’m gonna vote ‘yes’,” Lal said.
Sitting pint-in-hand at popular student pub The Oxford Scholar, Lal acknowledged that his viewpoint could be dismissed as stereotypical of the Melbourne student.
To some people in the country, the Voice is dismissed as a “partisan progressive issue”, supported by university students who are “all about being progressive”, Lal said.
“I’ve looked at what’s been proposed and I think it seems very modest, I don’t understand the whole outcry about it personally.”
Lal said for the majority of people within his university and work circles, voting ‘yes’ was considered a “no-brainer”.
He said his generation has been in a “fortunate position” to learn about Australian history during their schooling, including the treatment of Indigenous peoples. He said former policies haven’t met standards in closing the gap for Indigenous people, so it is good to remain open to other opportunities that could make a difference.
Lal had come across a few no campaigners at the time of his interview with The Swanston Gazette.
“One person said I’m voting ‘no’ because the Liberal party’s voting ‘no’ which probably shows their uneducated view on the topic,” Lal said.
He said another student was voting ‘no’ because they didn't think the Voice was going to make a difference.
Lal agreed that the Voice won’t solve everything but said it was a “step in the right direction and a step that we should take”.
He said by having that connection between communities and policy makers, there would be a better representation of Indigenous needs.
“Better than us westerners or non-Indigenous people telling Indigenous people what their policies are,” Lal said.
Seventy-eight year old retired teacher Jennifer Hatcher agreed that opinion on the Voice “might be a generation thing”.
She said that within her community in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, many of her peers, like her, would be voting ‘no’.
“Perhaps it’s an age thing, they don’t want change,” she said.
Hatcher said she was against the Voice because she thought it provided Indigenous people with an unfair and unnecessary advantage.
She said Indigenous people already received benefits from government schemes so, therefore, the Voice wouldn’t embody “equal opportunity”.
“They’re as Australian as anyone else in this country,” Hatcher said.
Born in England, Hatcher migrated to Australia from the Netherlands when she was 10 years old.
She described how she worked hard for the life she has today.
“No handouts, no extra funding. Everyone’s been given an equal opportunity in this country,” Hatcher said.
“[Indigenous people] haven’t done much to improve their own lives.”
When asked what influenced her opinion of Indigenous Australians, Hatcher said she’d spoken to non-Indigenous students in the Northern Territory and had listened to the experiences of healthcare workers that had worked with Indigenous communities on the radio.
As she still occasionally works as a relief teacher, Hatcher noticed that the majority of students were “pushing for a ‘yes’ vote”.
She said she hasn’t been following the media coverage of the Voice closely, but said there had been a “lack of real debate” about the Voice and that the government was “forcing” a one-sided view on the public.
“[The Labor government] wants to make a name for themselves,” Hatcher said.
Hatcher said she believed the Voice was a waste of taxpayers’ money and the government should be focused on issues that affect the “wider community”, such as healthcare, housing and pension.