'I voted 'No' at the last referendum and I have many regrets.'

For a stack of you, this will be the first time you have ever voted in a referendum, but for a ton of late Gen Xers and a tiny slice of older Millennials, we were just old enough to vote at the last one.

It was 1999 and I had turned 21 just six days before. Perhaps I can explain away my voting choices back then as the result of an epic hangover from the party the weekend prior… but in reality, I was very influenced by the scare campaign at the time.

So what were we voting for in 1999? Like now in 2023, we were being asked to amend the constitution, but instead of creating an Indigenous Voice to parliament, we were asked two questions.

The first was “Should Australia become a Republic?”, and the second was whether or not to put a preamble in the constitution to acknowledge Indigenous ownership of the land prior to European arrival.

In the lead up to this vote, the majority of Aussies were keen to make it happen. Polling suggested a huge number would vote yes, but then the scare campaign began and it sounds all too familiar considering where we find ourselves in 2023.

John Howard was the Prime Minister at the time. He had promised to hold the Republic Referendum when the Liberals won office in 1996, after former PM Paul Keating had been pushing for it.

Howard was not popular among young Australians at the time which was already working against the referendum’s success, but it was the No campaign’s argument which really cut through.

One of the two questions, the one about becoming a republic, came with some detail about what the model of an Australian Republic would look like.

Many wanted our new head of state to be elected by us, the people of Australia. But the model we were given was that the new President of Australia would be elected by parliament.


The No campaign convinced us that this was the worst thing that could ever happen to Australia. Imagine getting a brand new President and you had no say in who he or she would be? Well we weren’t about to be hoodwinked into allowing this new president the power to reign over us without our individual wants and desires catered to specifically.

WATCH: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese explains the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum. Post continues after video.

Australians also didn’t love the idea of President John Howard, and so when we went to the polls on November 6, 1999, younger Aussies like myself, voted No. We didn’t stop to think that we already didn’t get a say in who our Prime Minister was, this would be exactly the same, we just would call him or her President and we’d no longer be under British rule.

How naive of us.

Not only had we denied this country the ability to break free from colonial rule, but we also told First Nations people that we didn’t want to acknowledge them as the rightful owners of this land before European invasion.

We’ve been scared of change for a long time here in Australia. 

When marriage equality was being debated, the No campaign told us that it would lead to all kinds of things like boys wearing dresses at school or kids being told to role play as same-sex couples. Just like the Voice No campaign is bringing up a whole lot of other issues like land rights and the cancellation of Australia Day, things that aren’t even relevant in this discussion.


When women were asking for the right to vote, the No campaign back then told Australians that 90 per cent of women didn’t want it, just like we’re being told First Nations people don't want the Voice despite the idea of it coming from First Nations people in the first place.

They were told that giving women the right to vote would pit men against women instead of moving forward together, just like we’re being told the Voice will pit race against race.

They were told that it would be expensive and have no direct benefit, exactly as we're being told the Voice will be toothless and won’t really represent First Nations people.

They even told Australians that in some states where women outnumbered men, giving them the right to vote would put the government under petticoat rule. Sound familiar? Only now, it will give First Nations people too much power over government.

LISTEN: Mamamia Out Loud invites Quandamooka woman and ABC National Indigenous Affairs reporter Carly Williams on the show to answer Outlouders' questions about the upcoming Voice To Parliament Referendum. Post continues after podcast. 

The No campaign the women’s suffrage movement faced, explained that you should vote No, because it is unwise to risk the good we already have, for the evil which may occur. Sounds a lot like If you don’t know, vote No to me.

What you do with your vote on October 14 is your choice. Remaining uneducated by choice won’t be an option for me. I hope you don’t look back and wonder why you were ever swayed by scare tactics like I was.

Learn more about it, make an informed choice and we’ll see where we stand on October 15.

Image: Getty.