Margo Kingston

Margo Kingston

Co-publisher and editor-in-chief at No Fibs
Margo Kingston is a retired Australian journalist and climate change activist. She is best known for her stint as Phillip Adams’ ‘Canberra Babylon’ contributor and her work at The Sydney Morning Herald and #Webdiary. Since 2012, Kingston has been a citizen journalist, reporting and commenting on Australian politics via Twitter and No Fibs.
Margo Kingston

YES TO THE Voice can’t happen without widespread engagement at the local level on a subject people who disagree generally steer clear of. Simple as that. 

Yes there’ll be big ad spends, famous Australian endorsements and sophisticated polling informing highly targeted social media messaging. But, like the community independent movement’s success at the last election, the secret sauce is the many volunteers across the political and social spectrum who will wear the T-shirt, organise or host events, chat with their family, friends and neighbours and knock on doors. And most importantly, listen respectfully and persuade. 

The body responsible for fundraising and governance of the sprawling Yes23 campaign is Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition (AICR), chaired by Aboriginal film maker Rachel Perkins and lawyer Daniel Gilbert, who co-founded Uphold and Recognise with Julian Leeser in 2015. The chair of Wesfarmers, Michael Chaney, is on the board, as is former Liberal Party pollster Mark Textor and former Howard chief of staff and federal director of the Liberal Party Tony Nutt. 

Victorian Women’s Trust Executive Director Mary Crooks

The ‘From the Heart’ group, led by Dean Parkin, recently moved under AICR’s umbrella, with the job of running the campaign (Twitter handle Yes23@yes23au). Its field officers will liaise with community groups and NGOs advocating Yes. Like volunteers for community independent campaigns, they sign up to five campaign principles:

  • Be in solidarity
  • Honour culture
  • Contest ideas, not people 
  • Connect with communities 
  • Ensure safety 

One such group is the Victorian Women’s Trust’s ‘Together, Yes’ campaign, which has adapted the Kitchen Table Conversations (KTC) process it pioneered 20 years and put to use to help Cathy McGowan win Indi in 2013. (My interview with VWT executive director Mary Crooks and board member Alana Johnson in January last year on the history, philosophy and uses of KTCs is here.) 

KTCs are usually about listening to and reporting citizen’s needs and priorities This time it’s about education and persuasion.
I had a fascinating conversation with the Trust’s executive director Mary Crooks on the vision and its practice.

“Engaging people in respectful dialogue can be truly transformative. ‘Together, Yes’ empowers you to have meaningful conversations that inform and inspire your friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues on one of the most important issues of our time.” 

Mary Crooks

Wanted: 1,000 people across Australia willing to host two Kitchen Table Conversations of up to ten people to get informed and discuss the issues. The trust will provide the structure and materials – including a film with Jackie Huggins on how the 1967 referendum was won  – and mentoring. The hope is that guests will then host their own KTCs, widening the education and persuasion circle.

During our conversation I decided, gulping, to try to be a host in rural Comboyne, NSW, and we discussed how that might work. I’m also hoping to help organise a community forum on the issue. 

If you‘d like to participate in this grand civil society experiment you can register here.

No Fibs will focus on grassroots local engagement for the referendum. In 2013, we published election seat reports by citizen journos in the seats where they lived, and I’d love to do the same if anyone would like to volunteer. I’d also love reports on town halls and other community discussion events. I’m particularly interested in rural and regional seats, where the Nats and the Libs have already begun the gold-standard negative, fear-mongering campaign. “If you don’t know, vote No” is a particularly cynical, insulting theme, and for mine, only genuine respectful information and conversation on what can be an extremely difficult topic to discuss. (I learned all about that covering Pauline Hanson, Mabo and Wik). 

On the No Fibs pod I’d like to hear the stories of local volunteers and share their ideas and challenges.

As a Queenslander who grew up under the profoundly racist Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen government I’m pessimistic of success given the lack of bipartisanship at a federal level. Dutton and Littleproud are already playing dirty, urging Albanese to pull the referendum or risk the tearing apart of our country they’ll happily stoke. My hope is that good faith, informed and respectful engagement will reveal the bad faith of Dutton and Co, their smallness on a momentous issue for our nation and what we stand for. 

If Australians know the truth of what they are voting on and why, they can make an informed, considered decision. If that happens, bitterness at whatever we decide might be minimised – Yes accepted, and No a rethink of the next step to Constitutional recognition of the first Australians. In my dreams…

It’s gunna be a tumultuous, fascinating, nation defining and federal seat defining year. As Mary says, it’s the duty of non-Aboriginal citizens who support The Voice to step up. It’s up to us.

PS: You can subscribe No Fibs for email notifications of our stories and podcasts here.