THE cost of a ‘no’ vote in the upcoming referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament would be the rolling back of decades of reconcilation, says advocate Thomas Mayor.
Mr Mayor has been on a national “Voice, Truth and Treaty” tour since 2017 arrived in Fremantle this week to speak at today’s (Saturday January 28) One Day in Fremantle event at Walyalup Koort.
He said it would be “absolute heartbreak” for First Nations people if the campaign failed.
“If this referendum fails, because it can only be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from here, the cost of failure is extremely high,” Mr Mayor said.
“The cost of failure is that the Australian people would have said no to recognising our Indigenous heritage and culture officially.
“And it’s also the Australian people officially saying ‘no’ to fairness; that it is okay to make decisions about Indigenous people without hearing from them in a proper manner.
“I don’t think that would be a genuine reflection on what Australian people think.”
Mr Mayor says a Voice to Parliament is “unfinished business” and part of building the nation’s identity.
“It’s about who we are as Australians; not a young nation, but a nation that should be able to celebrate over 60,000 years of continuous culture and civilisation.
“But it’s also important because it’s really about people’s lives; that there are laws and policies that are made specifically for Indigenous people as a distinct people, and those laws and policies have clearly failed.”
He says the low rate of Covid infections in Indigenous communities gave an indication of what a Voice could achieve, praising former federal Indigenous affairs minister Ken Wyatt for listening to their advice and then following up.
In other health areas, he says states and councils often initiate successful programs, but a change of government or personnel sees the information disappear, but a Voice could help to ensure it reached the national stage.
Mr Mayor says organisations such as ATSIC and the Australian Aboriginal Progress Association from the 1920s had been good Indigenous advocates, but were prone to being nobbled by governments when the message got a bit pointed.
“With ATSIC, what [former prime minister John] Howard did was, he amplified its issues instead of celebrating the good work it was doing,” he says.
He said being constitutionally guaranteed would remove that political interference, while having advice before Parliament rather than delivered behind closed doors would provide better transparency.
Mr Mayor also appealed to Cockburn council to reconsider its decision not to endorse the Uluru Statement, a petition signed by 250 Indigenous leaders from around the country at the 2017 First Nations Consitutional Convention.
“My understanding is that they do support these things generally, but I hope for stronger commitment very soon, because they are needed,” he said.
“I would say to such organisations, not just Cockburn but all local governments and individuals, to consider this: that we are going to have this referendum – there’s no debate about that.
“And there is a lot of momentum built up over six years of hard work, not by politicians, but by grassroots Indigenous people and our allies.”
by STEVE GRANT