Advocates step up to give Indigenous groups a Voice

Posted on 25 Jul 2023

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Gallagher Jill VACCHO
Jill Gallagher has stressed that the call for an enshrined Voice reflects the desires of a large majority of Indigenous leaders.

As the campaigns for and against an Indigenous Voice to Parliament shift into a higher gear, not-for-profit organisations and charities are taking point position in the tough task of pushing for a successful referendum change.

The publisher of the Community Advocate, the Institute of Community Directors Australia, has unashamedly taken sides, joining the Allies for Uluru alongside hundreds of other groups in support of a “yes” vote.

From the start, the Allies grouping has urged supporters to remain positive, committing to taking the high ground, keeping it simple, and spreading the word.

The Allies for Uluru are hosting a series of events for NFP leaders in the coming month, including a day-long “Gathering for Yes” in Meanjin/Brisbane, with a CEO forum and town hall meeting.

Elsewhere, community organisations are hosting hundreds of events every week across the country, from pub talks with Uluru Statement from the Heart author Noel Pearson, to “kitchen table” conversations in people’s homes.

Supporters are in no doubt about the uphill battle to secure a majority vote and win the approval of four Australian states for the referendum to succeed.

Prominent leader says Yes vote will hold the government to account

This week, prominent Indigenous leader Aunty Jill Gallagher AO, addressing a conference in Melbourne, was among many who stepped forward to remind people of the strong support by First Nations groups for a Voice to Parliament.

Gallagher stressed that the call for an enshrined Voice, as other advocates have repeatedly pointed out, was one that reflected the desires of a large majority of Indigenous leaders, as represented in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Gallagher is a Gunditjmara woman and the CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO). She was also the Commissioner of the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission until late 2019.

In a passionate speech to the National Children and Youth Homelessness Conference in Melbourne on Monday, July 24, Gallagher spoke about her own rough upbringing and the continued blight of youth homelessness for Aboriginal people, saying a solution required all Australians to step up and vote for the Voice to give Aboriginal people a say in Canberra.

“The Uluru statement asks for a Voice to Parliament. It [also] asks for treaty and it asks for truth. Regardless of treaty or truth … we must have the Voice first, and it has to be enshrined in the constitution, simply because we don't want government to get rid of it.

“We had ATSIC [the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission]. And ATSIC was created under an act of parliament, and because the government didn't like what ATSIC was saying, they dismantled it [in 2005].”

“If our voice is an independent Voice to parliament, they can't dismantle it. A Voice to parliament will hold government to account on the failings that we are still [seeing] today with closing the life expectancy gap, with the over-representation in the justice system, with the child protection system. A Voice to parliament will bring hope to our communities and our people.”

Most Aussies agree it’s time to say Yes

Despite concerns about flagging support for the Yes vote as No campaigners seeded doubts about the proposal, a poll this month showed most Australians (52%) remained in favour of the Voice to Parliament.

The Australia Institute survey showed a third (33%) of Australians said they would vote “No”, while another 15% remained undecided.

Richard Denniss
Richard Denniss from the Australia Institute says most Australians support the change.

“Our research shows new Australians and young Australians are most optimistic about making Australia the best it can be, and most likely to support the Voice,” said Dr Richard Denniss, executive director at the Australia Institute.

“Young Australians ought to talk to their parents and grandparents about why they so strongly support the Yes vote and their hopes for the future of our nation.”

The survey came shortly before the July 18 release of official campaign leaflets for the Yes and No camps by the Australian Electoral Commission triggered an unofficial ramping up of the campaign.

Their release prompted a blitz of fact-checking and concerns about misinformation.

The Yes23 campaign is hoping community events and forums will help its cause cut through the doubts.

Yes 23 campaign director Dean Parkin said public events were a vital chance for all Australians to learn more and “get involved in the conversation”.

“We have already seen strong community support and engagement for our campaign to date, but we will be ramping up efforts to reach even more Australians between now and referendum day,” Mr Parkin said.

Master yidaki player William Barton’s piece Marrapurtangkali, composed with violinist and musical partner Veronique Serret, had its world premiere at the 2023 Communities in Control conference.

Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty said his organisation was unequivocal in its support, which was one reason why it had commissioned a musical composition to celebrate the Uluru statement. He urged Australia’s leaders, and federal Labor in particular, to be less cautious in their backing.

“Inspiration involves taking some risk, and without inspiration the government and the country are going to run down into a bog of disillusion that will make conspiracy theory the ground state of politics.

“The Labor party is still tormented by the memory of the Whitlam Crash Through or Crash years. When they let that fear guide them, though, they ended up with Mark Latham. Enough said. Vote Yes for a nation we can be proud of that moves all of us forward, not backward.”

Thomas Mayo
Thomas Mayo has penned a handbook in support of the "Yes" vote.

Ahead of the announcement of a poll date, Our Community has been closely watching the campaign efforts of Voice proponent Thomas Mayo, who earlier this year, in a landmark lecture hosted by the Institute of Community Directors, urged not-for-profit leaders to encourage a “yes” vote.

As one of the faces of the campaign Mayo has faced sustained scrutiny and frequently negative press, but in his new book The Voice to Parliament Handbook, he argues the Voice proposal comes from a place of hope.

“The Voice proposal is a wonderful consensus position, informed by history, experience and sound, logical sense.

“We have continued to work hard. The Uluru Statement – the invitation to accept our Voice – is written to the Australian people. And so, we have taken the invitation to millions of Australians to let them know why we have invited them to walk with us.” (Read an extract of his book here.)

In that vein, we’ve compiled five good reasons to vote Yes. Feel free to share with friends and doubters.

Why vote yes?

Because it’ll make life better for First Nations people.

The Voice promotes respect, involvement and understanding, and as such helps bring pride, hope and aspiration to people who’ve been ground down by centuries of overt racism. This will make a difference. Attitudes count.

Because it’ll open up new possibilities for Australia.

The unresolved tangle around Australia’s colonial hangover has kept us going in circles for decades. We have to move on if we’re to free our energies for the challenges of the future.

Because it’s what First Nations people asked for.

They got together, nutted out where start, and came up with the Uluru Statement. Overwhelming majorities of them support the Voice. We took their land, smashed their societies, massacred them, and stole their children, and we owe them big time. If that’s where they want to start, they’re entitled.

Because the other choice leads nowhere.

If the Voice referendum fails, there are no paths forward to reconciliation, or to any change in the constitution, or to any initiative at all, for a generation at least. If we can’t lift this, we can’t lift anything. Australia needs to be comfortable breaking new ground, innovating and taking risks. If we go on inflicting the death of a thousand cuts on any proposed change, we’re doomed.

Because it’s the right thing to do.

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