Indigenous voice advocates 'not giving up' after defeat

The morning after Australians voted no to a voice to parliament, constitutional lawyer Megan Davis did not get out of bed. 

Like so many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Professor Davis said she did not want to leave her house, get out of bed or read the news following October's referendum result. 

Prof Davis has been campaigning for constitutional recognition for First Nations people for decades and advocated for a voice to parliament in the lead-up to the referendum.

Professor Megan Davis
Professor Megan Davis has delivered the University of Queensland's annual NAIDOC lecture.

Eight months after the vote, the Cobble Cobble woman said she felt she could now speak about the referendum.

"It's been eight months and our leaders by and large have withdrawn from media and political engagement," she said.

"As one of the leaders of that campaign, I've had a lot of time to think about the referendum and yarn about it and I feel in a better place to speak something about it."

Delivering the University of Queensland's annual NAIDOC lecture on Wednesday, Prof Davis said while the hurt from the referendum would not heal quickly, Indigenous people would not give up.

"Our people have endured far worse and we are not giving up," she said.

"We turn every no into a yes."

Prof Davis continues to campaign for the Uluru Statement of the Heart, which asks for a voice in the constitution, treaty, and a truth-telling process.

Referendum voting slips
"Misinformation and disinformation" clouded the voice referendum, Professor Megan Davis says.

"They didn't vote no to truth-telling, they did not vote no to agreement-making," she said.

"The no doesn't mean a legislative voice is off the table and the no is not a no to constitutional recognition."

Reflecting on the referendum campaign, Prof Davis said a "cocktail" of racism, politicisation of the voice, disinformation, poor understanding of the Australian constitution and fear of change led to the 'yes' vote's defeat.

"Obscuring everything in the referendum last year is one thing the nation won't talk about and that is the thick cloud of misinformation and disinformation," she said.

"Throughout the campaign, lies spread from both ends of the political spectrum, politicians and opportunistic zealots got involved and they coloured the national conversation in a way that was divisive."

Heartened by the strength of young Indigenous people and the 6.2 million people who voted 'yes' in the referendum, Prof Davis said the future had the potential to be bright if all Australians worked together.

"It's not about right and left, it's about right and left foot - getting out of bed again and putting one foot in front of the other and walking alongside all Australians in a movement of the Australian people for a better future," she said.

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