Hours after leaving hospital following major and life-changing surgery, a senior AFL executive and Yes supporter returned to campaigning for the Voice to Parliament.
Tanya Hosch had her lower right leg amputated in August but her only concern was about getting back to working on ensuring the referendum’s success.
Less than a day after leaving hospital, spoke at an event alongside Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas in Adelaide to launch the Yes campaign.
“I got up on my one good leg and talked about why the Voice is so important,” Ms Hosch, the AFL’s Executive General Manager of Inclusion and Social Policy, told news.com.au.
The Torres Strait Islander woman is the director of Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition and has been campaigning on a range of issues affecting First Nations people for decades.
After contracting a diabetes-related disease three years ago, she underwent several surgeries before the lower leg amputation last month, she said.
Despite now being on a long road to recovery, Ms Hosch continues to rally support for the Yes camp and attended the Adelaide Walk For Yes on 17 September.
“I’m doing as much as I can, but I can’t travel at the moment and getting in and out of the house is a bit of a challenge. I’m managing to get to a few events and when I can’t, I’m doing a lot of briefings online.”
Speaking to news.com.au three weeks out from the referendum, she said the success of the Voice “is critical” and warned a No outcome could set progress back.
“I’m not sure the stakes could be any higher. Losing is not something we can afford – no doesn’t take us anywhere and could actually see things go backwards, which is a terrible thought.
“If this referendum doesn’t succeed, we’ve lost a massive opportunity to make the lives of all Australians, including our First Australians, more equal in terms of living standards and many socio-economic indicators.”
She rejected claims the Voice could be constitutionally risky and said its purpose is merely to provide advice to governments about Indigenous issues.
Its place in the Constitution ensures its permanency, which is something Indigenous affairs has lacked for generations.
“We’ve seen many other bodies come and go. They’ve generally not had long enough an opportunity – they have often lasted the length of a political cycle or even the length of a political leadership,” she said.
“Things have deteriorated significantly for Indigenous people on almost every heath, wellbeing and socio-economic measure. Addressing those matters can’t be done with the flick of a switch. It will take time.
“It’s important that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can speak directly about what we need to be doing and holding governments accountable.
“The idea we could finally have something that consistently raises the bar on accountability will make a substantial difference in and of itself.”
Like many First Nations people, Ms Hosch said the ugliness emerging from the debate about the Voice has been “challenging”.
“There are some elements in this campaign environment that want to feed division. Fear and confusion are very effective in a conversation like this.
“This is a time that will be difficult for a lot of Indigenous people. All we can do on the Yes side is the exact opposite of what we’re seeing – promote a unity that will lead to a successful result.”
Ms Hosch encouraged those who remain undecided about the Voice to resist the No campaign’s claim that “If you don’t know, vote no” and seek out answers to their questions.
“It’s OK to ask questions. We encourage people to not think that not knowing means you can’t find out.
“If we can help people see the opportunity for Australia and see this is as something that will be good for the entire country, we’re hopeful.”
Ms Hosch has devoted much of her life to advocacy and activism. She has served the Australian Human Rights Commission and was a key architect of the Recognise campaign run by Reconciliation Australia.
She was the AFL’s first-ever Indigenous executive when appointed to her role in 2016 and only its third female executive.
“I’m someone who believes in the importance of collective leadership and communities working together to effect positive change,” she said.
“This opportunity now brings together core principles that I’ve always valued.
“My history tells me that consolidated and collective leadership, and consistency, are absolutely critical in moving us forward – all of us.”