New GetUp chief warns progressive critics of Indigenous voice against repeating ‘racist no campaign’ messages

Larissa Baldwin says the referendum for a voice to parliament is just a stop on the journey for Indigenous Australians

Progressive critics of the Indigenous voice to parliament need to “check themselves” to avoid repeating the same types of messages as a “racist no campaign”, the head of GetUp says.

Larissa Baldwin, a Widjabul Wia-bul woman, issued the warning in comments to Guardian Australia after she was announced as the chief executive of the progressive campaigning organisation on Monday.

The Albanese government is pushing ahead with a referendum to enshrine an Indigenous voice to parliament and government in the constitution, with a series of roundtables to build community support and provide greater detail about its proposal.

Last week the Greens deputy Senate leader, Lidia Thorpe, labelled the voice referendum a “complete waste” of money, saying advances towards a treaty were more important.

“We don’t need a referendum to have a treaty in this country and the treaty is what our people have been fighting for [for] decades and decades,” the Djab Wurrung, Gunnai Gunditjmara woman said.

Asked if she had a message for progressive opponents of the voice who argue it is a waste, Baldwin said: “The progressive movement needs to be really careful … I think some of the messaging they’re repeating around what goes first are the same types of message that our opposition is repeating and maybe they need probably to check themselves on that.”

Baldwin acknowledged there was a “huge diversity of political views across our community”.

“That’s important, that we have a dialogue … We deserve, as First Nations people, to have a political spectrum.”

But Baldwin said the “real risk in the referendum campaign is a racist no campaign”.

She warned that opponents would “unfairly target First Nations dialogues as [meaning] we can’t agree, we can’t come to one position therefore we shouldn’t have anything”.

Baldwin said GetUp’s role was “to be more ambitious than just referendum”, including advocating for “treaties, truth-telling commissions, representative structures”.

“Hopefully in the next decade we can see some real transformative change actually happening that will make a difference to our communities on a broad scale.

“To me the referendum is a stop on that journey, it’s us stopping to fill up the tank with gas. If we don’t pass the hurdle of the referendum … if we lose the debate … it could take us back so far.”

Greens deputy Senate leader, Lidia Thorpe, has called the voice referendum a ‘waste’ of money
Greens deputy Senate leader, Lidia Thorpe, has called the voice referendum a ‘waste’ of money Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Baldwin said parliamentarians “need to do better at explaining how [the voice] achieves substantive change”.

“Because if it’s just symbolic, our community isn’t going to be there for it. If we have a referendum that passes both hurdles, of a majority [in the popular vote and a majority of states] and First Nations people don’t turn out for it – then what mandate is that?”

Baldwin said GetUp, which played a significant organisational role in the same sex marriage law postal survey, would mobilise its volunteer resources in the referendum, adding there is “no way” it would sit out the voice campaign.

Baldwin was formerly GetUp’s chief campaigns officer. She succeeds chief executive Paul Oosting after a lower-profile election campaign that instead of a national focus campaigned in flood and fire-affected regions, and in northern Australian on Indigenous electoral participation.

Baldwin said GetUp would continue to shift its power “behind frontline communities and elevate people’s voices” as it did at the 2022 election.


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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