31 January 2023

Do you know enough about 'the Voice' to vote in the referendum?

| Chris Roe
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Uluru Statement From the Heart being signed

Nathan Moran (Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council) and Denise Bowden (Yothu Yindi Foundation) sign the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Photo: AHRC.

Later this year, Australians will be asked to have their say in a referendum on the establishment of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, and Gomeroi woman Rachael McPhail says it is vital that people across the Riverina have a clear idea of what is at stake.

Two information sessions will be held in Wagga next week exploring the message contained in the Uluru Statement from the Heart and what the referendum is all about.

“There was an opportunity to ask some of the experts that know all about the Uluru Statement and the Voice to Parliament to come out to Wagga and provide some information directly to the community,” Rachael explains.

“And when I say community, I’m talking about the First Nations community and also allies, because we need to allow people to have all the information.

“So, whether you’re for or against the Voice to Parliament, that’s not the issue, we’re hoping that people will know exactly what the referendum is asking for and can then make that informed decision.”

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The first meeting, on Thursday, 9 February, is open to the public and will include a panel of First Nations representatives explaining what the Uluru Statement and a Voice to Parliament could mean to First Nations communities.

The second meeting, on Friday, is for the First Nations community only and Rachael says it will provide a second chance to talk things through in a culturally safe environment.

“The Thursday session is going to be a kind of Uluru Statement 101: just the basics and the facts; and then we’re hoping that those from the First Nations community that come along might then go home and talk to their families about it. Have a think, mull it over and come up with some questions, and then bring that back to the Friday session,” she explains.

“So we hope it’s a chance to just have a yarn about any issues that they might have.”

Statement from the Heart

The Uluru Statement from the Heart. Photo: Supplied.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is the culmination of a years-long process that began under then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who appointed a Referendum Council to move towards formally recognising First Nations peoples in the constitution.

Talks were held in communities across the country and, in May 2017, more than 250 First Nations delegates gathered near Uluru to agree on a way forward.

The resulting Uluru Statement from the Heart was signed by all delegates and invited the broader Australia to “walk together to build a better future”.

“We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country,” the statement reads.

“When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.”

In summary, the statement laid out three key reforms, summed up as Voice, Treaty, Truth.

The first step is the establishment of a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution.

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While much of the groundwork was done under the Morrison government and minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, the burden now falls to the Albanese Government and Minister Linda Burney to see it through.

Ms Burney has indicated that a referendum may be held as soon as August once the enabling legislation has passed through parliament.

While polls continue to indicate broad public support for the Voice, many questions remain over how it would function and what it would mean in practice.

Rachael McPhail acknowledged the broad range of views in the community and says that is why it is important to hear first-hand from those involved in the process.

“When it comes to the First Nations community and political issues that affect the First Nations community, there are so many different voices and so many different points of view, which is a beautiful thing,” she explains.

“I think that in this particular situation, there are a lot of allies that want to support the First Nations community but are not quite sure how to do it, and when you have so many different voices in the community putting out different positions, it’s a little bit tricky.

“That’s why it really does come down to putting in the effort to make sure that you’re finding out the factual information so that you can make a decision that rings true for you.”

The Uluru Statement from the Heart information sessions will be held at the Wagga Wagga City Council Meeting Room on Thursday and Friday, 9 and 10 February, and registration is required.

Register here for the open first session and here for the Mob-only forum.

You can learn more about the Uluru Statement from the Heart here.

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