Later this year Australians will vote on whether to enshrine an Indigenous ‘voice’ in the Constitution, with supporters saying it will help to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
At the Cross Road Rd Forum held at The Monastery on July 27, State Attorney General and Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Kyam Maher, told the more than 35 attendees they had an important part to play in getting the ‘yes’ vote over the line.
“The single biggest thing you can do is to talk to people in the community,” he said.
“The thing that influences people most is a discussion with someone they know and trust. Talk as widely as you can, whenever the opportunity arises to talk about the Voice, please do that.
“That is what is going to win or lose the referendum – that personal interaction.”
In welcoming Mr Maher to the ecumenical gathering, Passionist priest Fr Denis Travers spoke of the Catholic bishops endorsing the Uluru Statement from the Heart and their encouragement for “our participation in the process of deeper reconciliation”.
Mr Maher, who is of Aboriginal Tasmanian descent, said history showed that institutions like governments had “not always done right” by his people. However, in more recent times groups such as churches had been a “force of good”.
“In 1938 William Cooper (a Yorta Yorta man who was a political activist and community leader) held a Day of Mourning…and within two years many churches in Australia had got behind what became the National Day of Observance (now known as NAIDOC Week),” he said.
“During the 1967 referendum churches played a critical role in achieving a vote over 90 per cent recognising the counting of Aboriginal people in our constitution.
“We’ve seen the reconciliation movement actively supported by faith communities around Australia. And now with the referendum coming up we need all communities, particularly communities of faith – those that have an ambition and desire to see justice and social justice in Australia – supporting Aboriginal people…”
He admitted it was unfortunate that the debate surrounding the Voice was becoming so contentious “when it shouldn’t be”.
“A Voice, at its heart, it’s a mechanism for allowing Aboriginal people to have more of a say in the decisions that affect their lives. It really is that simple,” he said.
“To enshrine in the Constitution recognition of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Island people through creating an advisory body that is a voice to the parliament.
“It’s not a big ask – why would Australia not accept that the most disadvantaged group of people in our country, the ones who have been here for tens of thousands of years, should not get a bit more of a say in the decisions that affect their lives?”
Mr Maher added that the body would not have the power to stop anything a government did; would not get a vote and could not veto legislation; or have a say in how to spend taxpayers’ money.
Instead, the advisory body would be able to recommend more effective programs and services to help ‘close the gap’ and provide better conditions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Citing one statistic that “sums it up better than any other statistic”, Mr Maher noted that the life expectancy of men born in the APY Lands today was only 48 years.
“In a country and a State as prosperous as ours, that is a disgrace,” he said.
In rallying support for the ‘yes’ vote, Mr Maher said if it succeeded as he hoped, “the sun will shine a little brighter”.
“It will make us better as a nation, it is important for who we are as a country to respect Aboriginal people given our history, it’s important for how we see ourselves…and important for how others see us as well,” he explained.
“It’s a bit of a crossroads for our identity as a country, who we are as people and how we respect First Nations people.”
One of the attendees at the forum was Anglican Rev Dean Eland who helps coordinate the Unley Uluru Statement From The Heart Support Group. He said members of the group had turned their focus to promoting the yes vote and had distributed about 3500 copies of the Federal Government’s booklet about the referendum to libraries, coffee shops, other centres and via letterbox drops in the Unley, Mitcham and Blackwood areas.
In closing the forum, organiser Gary Wilson acknowledged the forum organisers were “unashamedly pro-yes vote” and also implored attendees to spread the word.
“If this referendum is to pass it is up to us,” he said. “It’s also up to us to influence those around us who haven’t decided yet…we don’t want just to encounter people, we want to engage with them.”
Mr Wilson added that organisers had endeavoured to secure a speaker from the ‘no’ vote to address the forum, but no-one had responded to the request.Jump to next article