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Issue #1803      November 15, 2017

Fury as government rejects
Voice to Parliament

Referendum Council co-chair Pat Anderson and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people involved in the Uluru Statement from the Heart have delivered a scathing assessment of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to reject out of hand an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

“There is nothing honourable about what’s happened here” – Labor Senator Pat Dodson.

“Malcolm Turnbull has turned himself into the latest mission manager – he knows what’s best for us,” Anderson told ABC TV. “But also he’s omniscient because he knows how the Australian public are going to vote at a referendum.

“He has broken the bipartisan partnership he had with the other major parties. It’s been a bad couple of days for us all – it definitely has. Why did he ask us? The work of the Referendum Council came at the end of a 10-year process. It’s not something that just happened.

“Number one on our terms of reference was to go out and ask Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people what we wanted. We told him and he said, ‘Nah, we’re not doing that.’ Why ask us? Just do it, like generations of decision makers have been doing to us.”

The Referendum Council’s final report, which was published in July, recommended an Indigenous voice to Parliament.

The report came after a council-led Indigenous consultation process, which consisted of a series of meetings, leading up to the Uluru convention in May, when delegates delivered the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The statement included a call for treaty, makarrata, truth-telling and an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

The news that the Turnbull government was going to reject the Referendum Council’s recommendation leaked to Brisbane’s Courier Mail. On the following night, Turnbull, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and Attorney-General George Brandis put out a statement, describing a voice to Parliament as a “radical change”.

“The Turnbull government has carefully considered the Referendum Council’s call to amend the Constitution to provide for a national Indigenous representative assembly to constitute a ‘Voice to Parliament’,” they said.

“The government does not believe such an addition to our national representative institutions is either desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum.

“We have listened to the arguments put forward by proponents of the voice, and both understand and recognise the desire for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to have a greater say in their own affairs.

“We acknowledge the values and the aspirations which lie at the heart of the Uluru Statement. People who ask for a voice feel voiceless or feel like they’re not being heard. We remain committed to finding effective ways to develop stronger local voices and empowerment of local people.

“Our goal should be to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians serving in the House and the Senate – members of a Parliament which is elected by all Australians.”

Labor Senator Pat Dodson said the government’s response was a “kick in the guts” to Indigenous people. “Well, it wasn’t honourable,” he told ABC radio. “It wasn’t honourable because they didn’t discuss any of this with their own advisory committee. They didn’t discuss it with any of the Indigenous leadership.

“They certainly didn’t discuss this with the Opposition before they allowed a leak or a leak took place – and we wouldn’t even be having the discussion if the leak hadn’t taken place.

“So there is nothing honourable about what’s happened here. And certainly to then come back and say they made a judgement that a proposition that has been put by the First Nations people would not pass the referendum test ... Now, who knows that?”

Very disappointing

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples co-chair Rod Little told the Koori Mail that the government’s attitude was very disappointing.

“I think that some of the perceptions or assumptions that a Voice to Parliament was a ‘radical’ move, I think the language isn’t compatible with what we’ve heard from government about working with, not doing things to, us,” he said. “It also reinforces distrust between First Peoples and governments.

“There is a loss of hope, not only from First Peoples but also from other people who support recognition of First Peoples in the Constitution. The reconciliation work that has been done over the last 25 to 30 years, all of this work has just been undone with this action.”

Prominent Cape York Aboriginal man Noel Pearson said at least former Prime Minister John Howard had the grace to put the public question of a republic to the Australian people for their vote in 1999. “There could have been a way to say no to this, without all the egregious dog whistling that is present in the Prime Minister’s press release,” Pearson told ABC radio.

Senator Scullion was tight lipped when asked in Senate Estimates whether he was rolled by Cabinet colleagues on a constitutionally-enshrined indigenous voice to parliament.

However, he did indicate one of the reasons the government decided to reject the proposal. “Speaking to 3% of the population when you’re actually trying to deal with a national issue, I think was part of the fail,” he said.

Little pointed out that in the ACT, the Indigenous elected body (which he is a member of) has helped bring Indigenous voices to government. “It’s helped to make changes to ACT Human Rights Act – that’s the kind progress that can be achieved, rather than simply reject the proposition,” he said.

“Apparently when Turnbull spoke to Cabinet he said he knows what it’s like to lose a referendum (Turnbull was the leader of the failed Republican cause), well we know what it’s like to win.

“We won the ‘67 Referendum, and he’s not giving due credit to the Australian people.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Repression grows

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