Launch of “YES 23”

On the first day of NAIDOC week, Sunday 2 July 2023,
Salthouse Community Centre, Ngala Windbreak, Canberra

The Australian trade union movement is unequivocally supporting the Yes campaign for the upcoming referendum on a first nations Voice.

There were politicians, federal and local, and of course a fair number of union members past and present, in the crowd this morning in Braddon. We were treated to an impressive line-up of speakers, beginning with Ngunnawal Elder Aunty Violet Sheridan, and including another well-known Canberran, our 2023 Canberra Citizen of the Year, Katrina Fanning.

Katrina was also the ACT’s 2020 Australian of the Year, her many years working in government and indigenous affairs recognised when she was awarded a Public Service Medal in 2015. She is currently a director at Coolamon Advisors, which supports the design, management, delivery and evaluation of government policy and programs, particularly in indigenous areas.

Speech by Katrina Fanning AO PSM

Katrina spent quite a few years playing rugby, including with the Junee Diesels (aged 10), and later 26 appearances for the Australian women’s team, the Jillaroos (including two World Cups), and she was unwilling to risk her knees getting up onto the speaker’s rock. So in this photo she is almost invisible in the sea of people who had come out on a cold winter’s morning to support the launch of the “YES 23” campaign.

Katrina acknowledged the Ngunnawal people, traditional owners of the land we met together on.

She thanked the many hundreds of people in the audience for coming to support YES 23.


I am a Wiradjuri woman from Junee NSW. I have had the pleasure of living here and being part of the Canberra community for more than thirty years.

I am voting YES to the referendum.

I believe that recognition of first nations in the Constitution opens the door for all Australians to share in the pride and importance that comes with being on a continent with the oldest living culture on the planet. This culture is a genuine strength that is far too often blamed for the circumstances of indigenous people in this country.

The referendum is not about symbolism. It is real, practical and desperately needed.

The real villain in our story is poverty!

We need to address poverty as the driver of disadvantage – poverty born from past policies and practices, from the delivery of services and initiatives that have ignored the needs, strengths and aspirations of those most affected.

Let me tell you about the Canberra bubble. As you know, we only get half a vote in the ACT, the same as the Northern Territory, so we miss out on being counted as a state voice, like people in the rest of the country.

But Canberra already has an elected body which represents the interests and aspirations of the local Indigenous community: the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body. This gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT a strong democratically elected voice, and makes a practical difference in people’s lives. We now made a difference in housing, with older persons’ units; with changed modelling of public transport to value people’s need to access critical support services; by restoring the heart of our community in Boomanulla Oval; and ensuring our large organisations are given the opportunity to manage large-scale projects to suit their needs such as Winnunga and Gugan infrastructure projects. None of this has undermind the democratic process or taken away the rights of other Canberrans.

I was part of Voice co-design workshops in Canberra, and in regional centres like Ipswich, and remote places like Ngukur and the Tiwi Islands.

My experience is that our communities want a Voice to Parliament.

They have the answers on how to address local issues.

For 234 years we have been surviving – surviving the impacts of decisions made by others, often very far removd from our realities.

The Voice changes that.

There is a mountain of evidence that shows when people are genuinely involved in the decisions that affect their lives, far better outcomes are achieved.

Find the truth in this campaign. There is so much misinformation, stories about mythical billions that have been given to us and wasted, how we can’t be trusted. The reality is that money is wasted before it gets to us. Any number of organisations are run well, by and for first nations people.

There are first nations people who will vote no. But this diversity of opinion is exactly why we need a voice. Hand-picked groups are usually selected in the image of the government of the day, limiting robust conversations. The Voice gives first nations people the choice in who speaks for them, and the opportunity to change that if they want.

We need your help to amplify the message!

We need all Australians to show their support, to talk to their families, sporting clubs, work places and faith groups. Not talking for us, but taking the messages from us, walking with us for a better future.

The outcomes for first nations people are not good enough in this country.

We can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different result.

This is a fight for our lives.

Vote YES and walk with us for a better Australia for us all.

Katrina ended with an indigenous proverb:

Today I add my breath to yours.
May our days on this land be long.
May we walk these roads together.