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Australia: sector warns of No vote implications

Australia rejected engraining Indigenous people in the constitution by developing a specialist advisory body in a referendum on October 14.

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The result of the referendum will confirm how many people think about Australia, Yi continued

The vote would have entrenched a Voice to Parliament that would represent Indigenous citizens, who make up 3.8% of the country’s 26 million population and have inhabited the lands for 60,000 years.

Supporters of the proposal said it would have been a huge step in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, while opponents claimed it was divisive and unfair.

Speaking with The PIE, pro vice-chancellor International at the University of Southern Queensland and vice president of IEAA, Ren Yi, said that the image and brand of Australia will be impacted overseas as a result of the vote.

“That’s a problem,” he said. “We need to repair the brand to basically say we are a welcoming, fair community not only to the prospective student but also the current student.”

While many overseas may not have an understanding about the issue and it is “bigger than international education”, the result of the referendum will confirm how many people think about the nation, he continued.

“[Australia] is still a safe place, it’s still a nice place,” he said. The symbolic vote was not likely to have a huge legislative impact, but the result “just proved by a lot of people’s image about us”.

“It was basically about giving something to our Indigenous population,” Yi said. “Everybody else, the 97% of the population – it doesn’t matter if you migrated with Captain Cook 200 years ago or two days ago from India – it is about us being the guests. They are the custodian of the land, but somehow we can’t give a voice to them.”

Director of Australia-Indonesia Consulting and PhD candidate at Australian National University, Elena Williams, said the Voice referendum was “an opportunity to redefine ourselves as Australians, to take pride in our First Nations cultures”.

“[We had the chance to] to stand up and recognise Indigenous Australians as the world’s oldest continuing cultures, to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation, to mark a change,” she said.

“This was important not only domestically but also internationally: we had the chance to show the world, and the many international students who visit Australia, a progressive country, grounded in respect for our first peoples.

“This was important not only domestically but also internationally”

“Instead, we have shown the world a very different Australia this weekend. How do we answer the questions from international students about this? How do our students travel abroad and explain this division and stagnation when asked about Australia’s First Nations people?

“This is a grave moment in our country’s history.”

Yi added that the need to promote Australia as a welcoming destination is linked with the social licensing advocacy work IEAA has been doing for international education.

The organisation’s Help Australia Thrive! campaign, launched in June, celebrates the economic and cultural contribution of international students. Others in the sector have also spoken about getting Australian society to recognise the positive impact of international education.

“People are genuinely misinformed by government and also by opposition or by our media.

“This is a country that has always had that kind of mentality and misinformation, misleading and then plus ignorance and insecurity,” he said.

Speaking at AIEC in Adelaide, vice president (Global) at Griffith University, Sarah Todd, acknowledged that the sector should be aware that public discourse gets “picked up and amplified around the world”.

“At EAIE in Rotterdam, I couldn’t believe how many university partners and agents came up and asked me which way I thought the vote would go and what would that mean and how that reflects on Australia,” she said during a panel discussion.

She pointed out that countries with other Indigenous populations have managed differently.

“I’ve had a few Canadian partners ask me what will we do as a country depending either direction the vote goes,” she said last week. “Because regardless of which direction it goes, there has been division and I think it’s how we respond to the outcome of the vote will also be significant as well.”

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