Watch: Together, Yes Community Info Session Recorded April 2023
This is a recording from Wed 26 April of an online Community Info Session about Together, Yes, presented by Mary Crooks AO with assistance from Ally Oliver-Perham and Moa Martenson.
This session is a great opportunity for you to learn about the Together, Yes campaign and how you can play an effective and valuable role in the campaign to secure a First Nations’ Voice to parliament.
What is Together, Yes?
Together, Yes is a first-ever nationwide conversation process to inform and empower friends, family, workmates and neighbours on the defining issue of our time. Kitchen Table Conversations are a tried and tested approach used by the Victorian Women’s Trust for the past 20 years. They prove to be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.
In this community information session, we cover:
- The national campaign structure
- More about Together, Yes: the process, team and timeframes
- The pivotal role conversation hosts play; and the support we provide
- How you can join this campaign
The session finishes with a short Q&A. Scroll down to view the full transcript.
MARY CROOKS: Hi there and welcome to this online session of Together, Yes. My name is Mary Crooks. I’m the executive director of the Victorian Women’s Trust but I’m also project director of Together, Yes. Could I begin by making an acknowledgement of Country. I live and work on Wurundjeri country as part of the Kulin Nation and I’m proud of the fact that we have stood for over three decades now with ‘Koori Women Mean Business’ who share our office here in Clifton hill and it’s a great tribute to our working together that we have come into the Together, Yes campaign and the vote for the Yes referendum based on our deep respect for Indigenous cultures around the nation and we pay our respects to elders past and present.
Thank you for registering for this online session. We would like to record it for other reference, for other people, who might be interested in joining our Together, Yes campaign and I want to make it clear from the outset that this is an online session about Together, Yes as an opportunity hopefully that you will consider seriously in taking up and help to secure a Yes vote in the campaign. It is not a general session about the referendum per se, it is about Together, Yes. And as such, what we’d like to do is take you through a presentation first, through a slide deck, that explains to you what we’re on about and how you can join this as an opportunity in the campaign and then we’d like to actually create is space for questions at the end, questions that focus on the processes specially but obviously if you’ve got some burning questions about the referendum we’ll try to answer them and/or we’ll handball them to the Yes Alliance, the body we are working in with.
So you can pose your questions in the Q&A function and part of the Together, Yes crew, Ally and Moa are here supporting me today in helping us make sure that we do justice to the questions that come in. There are captions. If you need captions then you click on the captions option.
So let’s get started with our slide deck to explain to you Together, Yes.
So I have Acknowledged Country and I would also like to acknowledge that we have accepted the incredibly gracious invitation to participate in the campaign that is contained in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And remember in the Uluru Statement that this was not a statement directed to politicians but to you and to me as ordinary Australians that we would journey with Indigenous Australians to a better world. So that’s our entire motivation for entering the campaign is that gracious invitation contained in the Statement from the Heart. Since October we have been working close at hand with, initially, From the Heart and then the Yes Alliance and I will tell you a little bit more about that in a minute.
I would just like to ask you to take the time and read this quite extraordinary commentary from a Yolŋu elder who actually passed within a month ago:
‘What Aboriginal people ask is that the modern world now makes the sacrifices necessary to give us a real future. To relax its grip on us. To let us breathe, to let us be free of the determined control exerted on us to make us like you. And you should take that a step further and recognise us for who we are and not who you want us to be. Let us be who we are – Aboriginal people in a modern world – and be proud of us. Acknowledge that we have survived the worst that the past has thrown at us, and we are here with our songs, our ceremonies, our land, our languages and our people – our full identity. What a gift this is that we can give you, if you choose to accept us in a meaningful way.’ Yolŋu Elder
This is an extraordinary statement. It’s gracious, it’s generous, it comes from a past of pain and disadvantage and marginalisation and still the generosity is their gifting – gifting a long, long culture to us knowing that the past, that is worst excesses have been thrown at Indigenous Australians over the last couple of centuries. It is our chance to set a new deal contained in the statement. It is a gift we’re being given but the important thing is that we need to choose to accept that gift in a meaningful way and not something that we would do in a cavalier fashion. To us, this is a powerful opening station because we are not coming here in an online session or as Together, Yes from a position of neutrality. We are unashamedly working to bring about a Yes vote in the referendum. We are not pretending to be objective, we are not pretending to be neutral, we are actually being open and transparent with you. We want to see the referendum come home with a Yes vote and we want to help that happen.
One of the other powerful concepts in the Uluru statement that I’m sure some of you will have read is this concept of Makarrata, the coming together of the agenda, the coming together after a long struggle and it captured aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship. Now surely we are up to having a more truthful relationship with Indigenous Australians than has happened under colonisation. So this is fundamental to us to be part of that establishing a truthful relationship, heading the Uluru statement of Voice, treaty and truth telling and knowing that a vote – a positive outcome in the Yes referendum is actually an important beginning point for a lot more understanding and accommodation of respected needs and cultures from now on.
Quickly, in terms of our national campaign overview, it was just in late February that the Australians for Indigenous constitutional recognition was formed. It is the over arching body handling fundraising and providing the governance structures for the campaign. It’s chaired by Rachel Perkins and Danny Gilbert. It’s website, yes23.com.au is a very important website for you to be going to. Dean Parkin was the CEO of From the Heart, he is now CEO for the Yes Alliance. The two deputy directors Kara Keys and Paul Murphy and Emily Holm, the national field organiser is the one we have had most of the dealings with on a daily and weekly basis for several months now and I’m happy to say that the Yes Alliance has just been able, in the matter of a few weeks, to put several field organisers in each State and Territory which is fantastic. The kind of work they have done so far without that kind of infrastructure is momentous and now here’s hoping that they have the boots on the ground to do the important work.
The Yes Alliance that formed in late February was announced in Adelaide. These principles were formed over several months starting in October last year and they are very important, I think, for you to see because we at Together, Yes commit to working by these principles and so does the whole Yes Alliance. Be in solidarity. We won’t be competing, we won’t be grandstanding, egos are not going to get in the way here. We are going to share, we are going to share with one another data and ideas and where possible we are going to support one another, keep an eye on one another over the course of the campaign.
We will honour culture. Naturally we will honour Indigenous culture and ways of working and the fact that the Women’s trust and Together, Yes, we have offered our campaign methodology to be in service to an Indigenous-led campaign is part of honouring culture but it is also important that we honour culture in other ways. So, for example, we have been developing a wonderful partnership with Jewish communities in Australia where they will be launching their version of Together, Yes to fit in with their Friday night Shabbat discussions around their kitchen tables. So we’ve agreed to modify our approach and to modify the technical requirements so that they can actually work with our materials down the track in a way that is culturally appropriate.
We will contest ideas, not people. This is very important. I think already you will have seen, and I’ve seen, that there is a little bit of nastiness and misinformation creeping into the debate. We will be committed to not replicating that in any shape or form but we will contest ideas and we will do so vigorously where it’s warranted. We will connect with communities, we won’t be telling people what to do or telling communities how to handle this but we will connect where we possibly can with people sharing networks, boosting networks and so on. And most of all, we will ensure safety. We will ensure safety in our own method, our Kitchen Table method and we will try to do our bit to make sure that no harm is done through the Yes Alliance over the next six months across Australia.
What is Together, Yes? We want it to be a unifying movement. We want it to be a process that does bring a lot of people – Australians around the country – together in a safe and respectful way to help secure a Yes vote. The Kitchen Table Conversation method that we are using was created by us at the Victorian Women’s Trust over 20 years ago. So the important thing about this is that it’s tried and tested. We have seen it work and we know that it has a power to play a role in the referendum.
I won’t go a lot into the origins but I want to make a couple of quick points about this, which is really for you to feel a sense of confidence and credibility about this approach. It started back in Victoria in the late 90s at the time where a Government was pretty much riding roughshod over people. Schools, public schools, were being closed summarily, people were being discharged from hospitals prematurely and democratic institutions were actually being eroded before our eyes. And there was a great deal of community distress but it wasn’t being picked up by the media at the time. So we launched into this process in the late 90s where we involved some 6,000 women and men at the time in this safe and respectful dialogue in their homes, in community venues and it was, in effect, an opportunity in between the ballot box for people to actually be heard, for people to put their concerns on the table and it was an important confidence-building movement that happened back then. It was so successful at the time that we then decided to apply it again around the issue of water. That was successful to the extent that the CSIRO picked up our model and developed their own energy program. I think probably the most famous deployment of our model was with the north-eastern seat of Indi in Victoria in 2012-2013 when Cathy McGowan and Voices for Indi defied the national trend and brought about a seat change there – the seat had never changed to an independent in 100 years or so. In short, back in 2012, Voices for Indi came to us at the Women’s trust and said, “Can your model be adapted to an electorate?” And second, “Can you help?” The answer was yes. The important thing is back then that Kathy herself and the chair were both consumers of our product if you like in that they were members of small groups in Victoria through Purple Sage and through Our Watermark so those two women themselves understood the power of this process in affecting change and affecting reform and involving people at the grassroots and honouring their experience and their wisdom and their expertise. So since then, I think Indi itself was seen as a beacon for community engagement and I think in large respects this showed through even in the last federal election with the election of a small number of impressive women as teal – so-called Teal independents. It is not as though this is a method for independents, it is actually where people understand that we need decent processes of community engagement that people can trust. Descend methods of community engagement that shake the political culture up, a culture that might be a bit tired and dichotomised into different pears. This is about giving people the power to be heard and to have their concerns tabled and to be genuinely empowered. I think it is no accident that when Prime Minister Albanese announced that there would be a referendum on recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and a voice enshrined in the constitution that we quickly came to the determination at the Women’s Trust that we had to bring our model out into the public domain again – nationally this time – and in the service of Indigenous-led campaigning.
So it is a simple and powerful idea. I know not just from our Kitchen Table applications but I know from being an educator in a past life and so on that when you engage people in safe and respectful dialogue it can be truly informative and transformative. I’d just ask yourself to think about how do you learn on a daily basis because people are not always enrolled in courses. People are not always reading lots of books. People are not always in book clubs. They’re not always reading newspapers. I think if you do an audit about the way you refine your opinions, the way you take on new ideas, the way you recalibrate your thinking, I reckon you’ll find that often that’s because you’re bumping your ideas around with other people, you might hear someone in a conversation, even after going to a film or after book club or talking to people around the table that you actually acknowledge the power of what someone else might have said and you find you are shifting and refining your attitudes all the time. I actually think we do most of our informal learning through one another and that’s the kind of thing our model is based on. So we want to help people have meaningful conversations with one another with a view to delivering – help deliver a Yes vote on what we see as the most defining issue of our time.
This is how it works. You come together with about eight or nine other people in the comfort either of your own home or a community venue and roughly for about one-and-a-half hours, but to be honest, by the time people move in, by the time people come in, have a cup of tea, sit down, relax and mingle at the end, the whole experience is likely to be around two hours I would think. The deliberative learning and engagement we are planning would be about one-and-a-half hours. And we’d like each session – there will be two sessions – we’d like each session, if possible, to be about three to four weeks apart, which again is a deliberate timing factor to allow people’s ideas to percolate, to mull, for people to just shore up the thinking and the feelings that they had from that first session, a chance for people to ruminate. The entire conversation period begins from mid-May and will go through until August – late August. So in other words, if you were to come aboard as a conversation host, we would expect you to hold your two sessions sometime late – from late May onwards until June, July, August. It also gives people the chance to come onboard in June and July, to be later to the process than you, yourself. Which is great in terms of growing the movement. We have chosen May for the huge symbolism, we think, of it coinciding with the anniversary, the 56th anniversary of the 1967 referendum and the sixth anniversary of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. So we think there’s a great psychological power in hooking this nation-wide conversation process into those anniversaries. But I might also add quickly that the 1967 referendum, which has sort of been mythologised in some areas, but it was literally asking Australians whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be counted in the census. Back then, that was the big issue of actually being counted in the census. The issue today, in 2023 is a lot more significant and there’s a lot more at stake even than that simpler proposition back then.
The other issue I want to make in passing is that six years since the Uluru statement is a long time even and the last 10 or 20 years has been a long time in getting the issue of the voice up before the Australian people. The most important thing when you sign up to being a conversation host is that we actually supply you with the format, the resources, the discussion materials, you don’t have to create these yourselves. You have to be, in effect, a good manager, being able to take the business of the meeting and make sure that you get through it as a group.
The conversation hosts are pivotal to Together, Yes. We can’t talk about a nation-wide movement around the Kitchen Table model without people like yourselves stepping up and saying, “Hey, I’ll have a go at this.” So you have the power to bring people together. We provide the practical guidance and the resource materials and the supports but I think the most important thing I want to say at this venture is that when you have the power to bring people together, again, let’s not mystify that as some surreal power because let’s face it, you pretty much do this a lot of times. You know, you’ll organise a family dinner, you’ll organise to go somewhere for a weekend, you’ll organise to go on a picnic on a summer’s day, you’ll organise people you maybe play sport with to do something. Being a conversation host is pretty much mainly about – you tend to be a pretty good organiser. You tend to be able to pick up the phone or text people or email people or chat to people and say, “Hey, how about it?” So there’s nothing mystical or mystifying about bringing people together. It’s just that this is a bit more of a formal process and it’s a bit more of a leap of faith in the sense that you are asking people to come into a discussion about a really important issue and you quite possibly haven’t done that before.
But it is important for us to state that you need no special knowledge of the issues of the referendum. You do not have to be a constitutional lawyer. You do not have to be across the issues of the referendum. And there are ways and means that we provide information ancillary to this anyhow. But you do need to be able to download materials ahead of time, bring your group together, make sure you have read through the materials carefully. If you have a problem with them you are not sure, you can text us or email us and we will clarify, you follow the format and that’s it. We reckon two sessions, given the amount of time to organise them, given the rough figure of about two hours per session that, overall, to run these two sessions is about eight hours of your citizen time. Amortised over the next five months or so before the referendum, it is probably about 15 minutes a week to be honest. So what we want you to be able to do, say, at the end of October, assuming that is after the referendum, that you can actually say, “Not only did I vote Yes to help bring it home but you know what, I actually lifted my finger a bit as a citizen and I played a role in Together, Yes.”
Now we are not going to watch a video at the moment or are we?
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: No, let’s proceed, we can send this to you afterwards.
MARY CROOKS: We will send you a link to the video because we had some technical issues the other week so Ally will make sure you can watch that short video which is of half a dozen people who have already signed up as conversation hosts. I have already mentioned the power of this group learning. So I won’t dwell on this slide too much except to say that there is a leap of faith in that we supply you with the format and the materials that we think help you from an empathetic point of view to connect with the past and the contemporary issue of recognition and will the voice make a difference. We think we’ve got the materials that can help you really clarify your thinking about that in a way that you won’t get from reading the press or listening to the debates that are swirling around. But we recognise the onus, responsibility on our part to deliver you materials that are going to have rigour and that you can trust and that will be really effective in the scheme of things.
So we’ve developed materials that we hope will bring people’s hearts and minds together because we’re pretty confident that if people have the chance to think about this, to see it as an issue of fundamental justice in the first instance, then we think that we can help deliver a Yes vote. The maths is important. Each small group that you bring together brings 10 people in participation. After your two group sessions, and assuming that they will be effective and positive and you’ll feel buoyed by them, feel more confident and more assured for example, then we’ll be asking each participant to carry individual conversations up until polling day with your recalcitrant uncle, aged relative in a nursing home, a younger person who wasn’t terribly interested in coming into your group, a neighbour. So carrying individual conversations after your group experience grows the movement, the conversation movement hugely. So it’s possible, say 1,000 hosts bring 10,000 to the party, 10,000 participants having at least 10 discussions brings 100,000 people into positive discussion of the issues. And that’s being modest.
Now this, I think, is one of the most important slides in our deck because we have been getting feedback from people saying, “But I don’t need to do this because I’m already voting yes.” I shake my head and say, “I’m sorry, it is not going to be enough.” This is not about being gloomy, this is about being realistic and rolling up our sleeves because the polling shows four distinct categories of voters. There are those like myself and our Together, Yes team and many of you who will be firmly in the hard yes. In other words, we’ve made up our minds and frankly, nothing much is going to change us. But I’m telling you now that this group of people is only in the majority and not by a great margin. And on its own is not enough to carry the referendum. I want you to just cast your mind back to the same-sex marriage proposition where a significant percentage of support for that proposition dropped off during the course of a very painful and negative campaign. And I’m hopeful that that doesn’t happen this time around but it might. So being willing to vote yes right now is actually not enough to carry the referendum. Let’s be clear about that. Then there’s a sizeable minority of people who are in the soft yes, that’s, “I’m a bit inclined to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples recognition and having a voice but I’m not too sure. I’m not too sure if it privileges Indigenous Australians over others. I need more detail.” And there’s the soft no who are not inclined to support it right now but you never know, with the right support and information might just move their position, their dial – or move the dial. And then there’s the hard no of people who are probably not for changing. They’re opposed. Now we need to be frank with you, when we say we’re not interested in the hard no, it’s not to disrespect people’s positions but it is to say that we’ve got minimum time, minimum energy and capacity to spread ourselves over the next five months. We are interested in working with people who are likely to actually change their position and with the right support may well do so.
So if you’re a hard yes, the experience actually of becoming a conversation host and you, yourself, responding to materials and to that group discussion is likely to shore up your position and enable you to carry conversations up until polling day to great effect.
We have a website www.togetheryes.com.au, that’s the key link between you as a conversation host and us. It’s got detailed frequently asked questions on it and these will augment over the weeks to come. We’ve got five really important essays sitting on there around constitutional indifference, taking the children away, the protection era, massacres and importantly a 400 word essay on what I think was an absolutely superb consultation process run by Indigenous leaders and communities that led to the Statement from the Heart coming out of Uluru. So that’s summarised. You have your own portal if you do come onboard. Password protected and that’s where the session materials will be able to be downloaded by yourselves.
Marcia Langton says this beautifully that we have a duty as citizens to step up in this campaign. We can’t afford in our view to have it fail and I think Noel Pearson and others are right when they say that if this fails it will set back the cause of reconciliation and the cause of Indigenous justice for a generation or more. So we’ve – this is a defining issue for all of us irrespective of our age cohort. We have to try and make it a yes vote. Now that means – some of you already know this – that two hoops have to be jumped through for the referendum to succeed.
In the first instance the whole nation votes and there has to be a majority of the whole nation voting. So 51% of Australians saying yes is successful jumping through the first hoop. The second hoop makes it harder and that is that the Territories drop off at that point, ACT and Northern Territory because the Constitution to succeed must have a majority of states achieving a majority within their state for it to succeed. Now that means four states, for example, South Australia, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, if those four states, for example, achieved a majority Yes vote in their state, the referendum is carried or any other state mix. So Marcia is absolutely right, if we want to see this referendum carried in 2023 we have a civic duty to take part as best we can in helping it succeed. So our call to action to you – become a conversation host and help bring the referendum home. Take this message out today to all your friends as well about becoming a conversation host and if you wish to talk someone into becoming a co-host with you, if you feel it is something you didn’t want to do on your own, by all means pull someone in and co-host but let’s grow the absolute mass number of conversation hosts around the country, as is happening now, but by August, let’s know that we have thousands and thousands of hosts bringing hundreds of thousands of Australians together in this unifying way to have considered discussion of the issues and help secure a Yes vote. So our promise to you is you register with us, with Together, Yes at www.togetheryes.com.au and we promise to make it rewarding for you and for absolutely everybody else in the experience.
Let me wind up this part by acknowledging that we wouldn’t even be able to have this online session with you today if it wasn’t for a fact that a small band of donors have given us the means to do so. We are totally reliant on those donations and we are so grateful to be given the chance to do this. We have a great, small staff and we have a great larger number of volunteers who have done the most amazing things – work for us since last September to help us get our show on the road. We have campaign partners that we are indebted to. Your Creative, our web designers have been amazing in ways you couldn’t imagine. And Alkina Wilkinson is a young Aboriginal woman who has designed art work for us in our office and has graciously given us permission to use her artwork in our campaign.
That is my presentation and thank you for staying the course of that. There is now time for you to post some questions that Ally will pose to me and we will see if we can do justice to your questions about Together, Yes. If I feel as though I can’t do justice to your question about an issue then we will handball it to an appropriate source. Ally, over to you.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: So we’ve got some great questions in the chat, in the Q&A function that we will get through. If you have a question that has been percolating while Mary’s been talking, now is the time to pop it in the Q&A function, because we don’t want to miss it. The one I would love to start with is one from – where is that one – Leanne who asks whether we will be doing bespoke sessions for different kinds of communities, say the disability community for instance?
MARY CROOKS: It is a great question and understand that we will take all these questions and ideas like that and if we haven’t thought them through enough we will try and do even more thinking about that in the weeks to come, Leanne. We are relying on bespoke sessions in the sense that we are having online sessions with communities who want to take up the Kitchen Table model and apply it in their communities. So the answer to your question is yes, in that we are working with as many groups and special interests as possible but what we’ll do today is take that on notice to make sure that in all the work we do over the next few weeks that we are making specific contact with disability organisations just to make sure that we’ve got that ground covered. So it’s a good question. We need – we are doing a lot of that now but there’s probably more that we can do. So thank you.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: The next question is from an anonymous person. They’re wondering about a mix of yes, no and maybe voters in their group. Is that desirable?
MARY CROOKS: Again, a great question. Our response is to say when – if you want to become a host and you want to bring a group together the first and important principle is that you bring people together according to your comfort level. Now some people might feel more comfortable if they bring all their friends together and acquaintances. That’s absolutely fine. Some people might think, “Well, I’m happy to bring people together, some of whom might come through a friend of a friend that I don’t really know. I’m comfortable with that as well.” What it doesn’t mean – you do not have to go out and try and find hard no’s, hard yes’s, soft no’s. You don’t have to go and find and rope people in because the power of this session worked to the extent that whoever comes is likely to be positively affected in different ways by the materials and by connecting with a group of people and if that means that they can carry conversations individually up until polling day within their families, within their retail networks, within their sports clubs and whatever, then that’s equally as powerful.
I think instinctively if you have a sense that someone isn’t there yet, that someone might have been a bit ambivalent about it, certainly invite them but the main thing is that people need to feel as though they are coming into a forum that is safe, that no one’s going to bite their heads off. So what we do in the sessions, each session, we set – we have some ground rules. There are half a dozen ground rules that the conversation host takes people through that are from our team and people read those ground rules and agree to them and so that sort of acts as a mitigating force against people coming in a belligerent kind of way into a group.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: I have an easy question for you, Mary. The people who attend the first session, are they the same people who go to the second session?
MARY CROOKS: Definitely. Definitely. The two sessions that you would hold are with the same people. So the people who came to the first session, they come back for the second. And our experience from the past is that there won’t be a lot of attrition, there won’t be a lot of falling away from the sessions. If there was, we’d have a bit of a problem. But I think the important reason we want people to come back the second time is that the sort of learning journey that we’re trying to construct in the sessions from one to the other is actually session 2 picks up from the end of session 1 if you know what I mean. In that it is not two static sessions, that there is a growth and development of thinking that goes from session 1 into session 2. So at this stage I can say for example that the first group session is going to explore pretty much the theme of recognition, of why recognition is important in the Constitution for once and for all after 120 years and the second session will take the issue of a voice enshrined in the Constitution and it will argue through use of evidence and film and so on that the voice can actually make a material difference on the ground. So one session becomes a bit of a platform for the other session.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: I’ve lost the specific question but someone in the list of questions was asking about dealing with backlash and will we be providing advice on how to deal with that?
MARY CROOKS: Yes, we will. We will be providing advice and support not just in the session materials but by text, by email, by phone call to conversation hosts but we’ll be providing tips and guidance on questions like backlash and how to handle that. And also, at the end of the first group session we will be asking conversation hosts to give us back not so much a report of the session but if there were issues where they felt the group got stuck or the group decided it was a bit of a tricky issue, then give it back to us and we will pledge to respond to every one of those questions and issues before the next session.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: Someone else has asked whether this is appropriate for hosting within like a workplace environment?
MARY CROOKS: We’ve had discussions – having discussions with lots of people in organisations. I think as long as the workplace gives you permission, for example, to conduct a Together, Yes group discussion, say, in a lunchtime – maybe by cribbing an extra half an hour – then I think it is entirely appropriate to be something that could happen in a workplace. We have other organisations, commercial outfits we are talking with who are using it as an opportunity to say to their staff, we want you as an employee of our outfit to have the chance to connect with the campaign in a positive and safe way. So they’re actually showing their staff how they could participate in Together, Yes which would mean they go off as – you know, they put their – take their employee hat off, put their citizen hat on and go and conduct a Together, Yes discussion through their own networks away from work. I think it is entirely appropriate for workplace. It could work in terms of time but there’s a protocol to be observed. I think in terms of the relationship between somebody at work and their manager of their organisation, and then it is entirely appropriate for employees to then don their citizen hat on.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: A couple of easy ones again. Online, in person, what’s your preference?
MARY CROOKS: I think it’s clear that our preference is for these group discussions to occur in person because – and I think COVID showed us through lockdowns and frustrating times that it’s difficult when you are not connecting with people, when you are not nourishing that sense of belonging to community. So our preference is for in-person because body language cues, the way conversations can build is more likely to happen in person, but we totally understand and endorse that if it’s tricky for someone to conduct in-person, they might have friends, acquaintances, relatives that are dispersed and they really badly want to do it within their own network, then we would support online and make sure that that can happen in terms of access to materials and so on. The benefits of sitting together around connection and belonging and building a discussion, we’re endorsing that because that’s where a lot of the power is realised.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: A number of people have asked whether they can host multiple groups? Thoughts, Mary?
MARY CROOKS: Absolutely, the more the merrier. If people feel confident in the model and they have instigated the Kitchen Table conversation model with a group and they want to do it with another group and another group, absolutely as long as they’re able to download the materials, as long as they’re able to exercise their comfort and their time commitment, that’s great.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: Jenny asks, she says, “You mentioned the Jewish community, has there been any connection with the Catholic Church given that the Australian bishops have given their support to the Yes campaign?”
MARY CROOKS: Thanks, Jenny, we are working hard with faith communities generally. We are in negotiation with different Catholic organisations, in negotiation with Uniting Church and with the Council of Australian Churches. So that’s happening sort of week after week. We are just setting up and talking through the way the partnership can work.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: I’ve lost the person in the list of questions, we’ve got lots. Someone was asking about how do you approach conversations about the fact that there are some First Nations people who don’t support the Voice to Parliament?
MARY CROOKS: Our position is pretty clear. We respect dissenting opinion. It is back to that contesting ideas and not people. But we’ve made it clear from the outset in the slide deck that we’re taking, as our starting point, the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the process that led up to it. One of the things that has been terribly important to someone like myself for example who has knocked around the public policy arena for decades, I have done a lot of national consultation work myself on really tricky issues, but you know until I read the intricate account of how the Indigenous designed process, national process, that led up to the convention at Uluru, until I read that and understood the way the regional dialogues, the three-day dialogues were structured, and the way cultural authority was established in each regional dialogue and how those regional dialogues were not passed on to each other dialogue to avoid group think and how each dialogue’s outcomes were revealed at the constitutional convention itself, I have to say, I don’t think I’ve seen a national consultation so impressively designed to be honest. So we take great heart from the fact that that Uluru process showed an incredibly strong majority, a strong consensus around the need for Voice treaty truth. So I think our position is in balance. We are going down the track of working with Indigenous-led organisations where that powerful consensus was able to be developed across Indigenous communities around the country.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: Carol has two questions, number one, what’s your surname?
MARY CROOKS: Crooks.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: Number two, people invited to attend these segues, do they need to be an Australian citizen, after all they are allowed to vote in a referendum. Carol says I am a permanent resident and live in a mixed neighbourhood. Am I able to invite whoever I think might be interested? The whole process fascinates me.
MARY CROOKS: I think that is a great question too. If someone isn’t a permanent citizen who can vote in the referendum, they can certainly have conversation with their peers and their networks. So there’s absolutely no reason why they should be somehow not included in the mix. I had, the other week in Brisbane, a great conversation with my taxi driver who wanted to know whether I was there on holidays and I quickly disavowed him of that notion and we had a great conversation. He’d been in Brisbane for 14 years, he was an Indian, Punjabi man and we got talking and he wanted to know about the Voice and by his own admission he didn’t know a lot about it and so we ended up talking about the resonance between the issues of justice here around the Voice and what his family experience had been in India as a Punjabi man, from British colonisation, the separation that he and his family understood the loss of sacred sites, the oppressive diminution around culture and language and by the time we finished, and he’d made the connection, he was going off like a rocket about what dispossession and colonisation had done for his peoples and he told me when he got out of the cab that he was going to talk to all of his mates in Brisbane in the weeks ahead. I just think that that is illustrative of the kind of conversational power that any one of us can have. I think it is really important to say to people at this point – it’s really important to block out some of the really noisy and – some of the divisive comment that is coming through a lot of some of the newspapers especially and just concentrate on trusted sources and not have your confidence dented because somebody on Sky News or someone said something really unpalatable or wasn’t founded in fact. So I think that goes to the question of if someone is not a voter it doesn’t discount them from actually having conversation and being able to carry a conversation within their networks.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: Rosanna’s got a lengthy question, I will read out the whole thing. She says, “I have heard that the Kitchen Table Conversations are more for listening to the community and not for promoting a particular viewpoint. If a lot of people in your group are soft no’s or soft questioners they might finish the session more likely to vote no afterwards. Is that not aligned to the Kitchen Table framework or have I misunderstood it?” Sorry, a paraphrased towards the end.
MARY CROOKS: So I think the Kitchen Table Conversation method, as I have said right at the outset, we are not a neutral party, we are trying to secure more support for the Yes propositions. So our materials in the small group work on the basis that if people are feeling a bit uncertain or undecided we actually think, fingers crossed, and with good materials, that we can actually help them shift the dial in their own thinking towards yes. Now, you know, I’d be surprised and a bit disappointed if we had a countervailing impact but I’m thinking, for instance, most people who are going into this referendum to vote have not necessarily got a vast historical understanding informed by evidence and literature about what’s happened in the past. And so, we’ve got some ways, I think, in the sessions of being able to overcome that potential obstacle and to be able to connect people enough with what’s happened in the past for them to actually understand the fundamental justice issue that’s involved. So I guess that is the leap of faith Rosanna that we will provide the materials by which a small group can process these issues in safety and in a respectful way and land in a positive position rather than become hardened into a no position.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: Following on from that, so Kath has asked if she can reframe the Together, Yes contents for those who won’t come just because it’s called Together, Yes. They might see themselves as a soft no but because from the outset it’s very much set up as being a yes-aligned activity, how do you get around that, in your opinion?
MARY CROOKS: I think we are going to have to take that on notice in the sense that I’m not quite sure what “reframing” might look like or what it might mean and it might well be something maybe if we can grab your email that we can come back to you on that because I wouldn’t want to just answer that by assuming that I know what you mean by “reframing”. So that’s one for us to do more thinking about if you don’t mind.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: I think it was around the title of the session, Together, Yes.
MARY CROOKS: Okay.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: There are a lot of questions, we have more than 40. I don’t think we are going to get through them all in the next three minutes. An easy one from Tim is when are the next info sessions for people who may wish to host conversation groups?
MARY CROOKS: At the moment the information sessions, we’ve held about – I think about 15 or 16 of those thus far. We’ve got Darwin tomorrow. You need to climb onto the website to show the information sessions. We’ve got Darwin this week, Western Australia next week, South Australia the following week and this morning we sat down in our team and looked at the additional ones that we can run in late May and early June given resources and capacity. So the best answer to that is have a look at the website for the information sessions as to which ones are coming up. This one is being recorded so hopefully we will be able to put that one up soon too – for people who can’t make those information sessions.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: David asks, “Mary, do you think enough people are aware of the local, regional and national dialogue that took place in the lead up to the Uluru statement?”
MARY CROOKS: No, they are not, David. And we will be trying to overcome this gap in knowledge. I think because not enough people have understood or looked at and understood the quite complex Indigenous-led design that led to Uluru it’s enabled people up until now – it’s enabled people through the media and through Sky News for example to vilify the process. Sorry, Ally, I just had to mute myself.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: I can answer Kathy’s question which has come up a few times and we will circle back to the one that Mary was just working at then. Do the support materials include advice about how to introduce the idea to potential invitees? Yes, we are also going to have some – on our website there is a section called “updates” and within that we will have a few scripts that people can use, whether you want to invite people via text message or email and you can rejig those as you see fit and, yeah, we are here to help in that regard. Mary, do you want to – do you have a few more thoughts on that question.
MARY CROOKS: No, you have captured it, Ally. We will be communicating between now and mid-May with people again by – on these how to pull your group together and so on. The most important thing is that we’ll go to whatever lengths we can to make this a memorable experience for people and, you know, how good would it be – and I’m a betting person, I’m punting on the fact that the referendum will be 14 October, so if that is announced you can say, “Wasn’t she spot on?” Or if it is announced at a different date you will say, “Mary got that wrong.” But I’m saying how good would it be at the end of October that we can, all of us, know that we not only chose to vote yes but we actually rolled up our sleeves and did some of the hard yards to make it happen because, you know, as I say, I think that in a lot of our – all of the people online and myself that if it doesn’t get over the line I don’t think we will see an opportunity like it in our lifetimes.
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: So we are right – it is actually 1:01 now. We are not going to get through these questions obviously. We have got them recorded and will be referring to them in our communications over the coming weeks and will do our very best to answer them.
MARY CROOKS: Can I come in on that and say to people who have fired the questions in to us, that not only have we got them recorded but Ally and I will take it upon ourselves to make sure that we actually work through every question over the next week or so.
So I think Ally, are we done?
ALLYSON OLIVER-PERHAM: I think so. Thank you everyone.
MARY CROOKS: On behalf of Together, Yes and the Yes Alliance, can I thank you for signing on to the online session and stay with us if you can. Become a conversation host and let’s see if we can bring it home. Thank you.
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