26 July 2023

Riverina urged to embrace 'a moment in history' as Linda Burney makes the case for Yes

| Chris Roe
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Wiradjuri woman and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney spoke at a barbecue organised by Dr Joe McGirr and local Yes23 supporters. Photo: Chris Roe.

There was a moment of serendipity as Leeton-born Wiradjuri woman and Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, addressed a crowd of around 150 community supporters at a barbecue alongside Wollundry Lagoon on Tuesday.

As she made the case for the affirmative ahead of the upcoming constitutional referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament and outlined the question that Australians will vote on, a sulphur-crested cockatoo screeched out an interruption.

READ ALSO ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ put forward their cases for Voice referendum

“Do you support a change to the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice…” she said as the noisy messenger swooped overhead and drowned out her words.

With a laugh, she stopped and looked up to the sky, “That’s my personal totem!” she explained.

“Hello,” she waved before telling the crowd, “He just dropped by to say hello”.

Dr Joe Linda Burney

Ms Burney and Dr Joe McGirr explained their support for the Yes campaign. Photo: Chris Roe.

Ms Burney’s visit to Wagga was brief as she continues travelling the country to make the case for Yes, and encourage volunteers to run a “respectful, honest campaign”.

“I am from the thriving metropolis of Whitton,” Ms Burney said, reflecting on her Riverina roots.

“I grew up there. Spent the first 16 years of my life in that little town and to go back there now and see, in the Memorial Park, ‘Welcome to Wiradjuri Country’ really says to me something about us as a country.

“Growing up down here and coming back to Wiradjuri Country is pretty empowering.”

READ ALSO Former shadow minister hits the road to make the conservative case for ‘Yes’

After a rocky few months in which the Federal Opposition has declined to support the referendum and the negative case has garnered headlines through Indigenous No advocates Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Warren Mundine, the case for Yes appears to be pushing back.

Ms Burney encouraged supporters to avoid divisive politics, arguments and disinformation and to closely scrutinise the official Yes or No information that has now been released.

“The Voice has not come from politicians, it has come from First Nations people, and that is absolutely important,” she said.

“The Yes case is about unity and moving the country forward together, whereas the No campaign is arguing more of the same and is not offering solutions.”

Wiradjuri Elders, local leaders and supporters gathered outside the Civic Theatre to hear from Linda Burney. Photo: Chris Roe.

Ms Burney rejected criticism that the affirmative argument lacked clarity and that the Voice would have a disproportionate influence on government.

“What the voice will do is establish an advisory body that will be able to advise the executive, government and the parliament on issues that affect First Nations,” she explained.

“It is as simple as that.”

She urged supporters not to be complacent and to embrace a “moment in history”.

“If we miss this moment, then we might never get back again,” she warned, claiming that a Voice would “move the dial on Closing the Gap targets”.

“It is wrong in this country that four out of the 19 targets are on track and the rest are not and that is unacceptable,” she said.

“The Voice won’t fix that problem overnight, but I can assure you it will go a long way to making a practical difference for First Nations people in this country.”

Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Isabel Reid welcomed the Minister to Wagga. Photo: Chris Roe.

While determined to avoid conflict over the issue, Ms Burney said she was “perturbed” to hear detractors paint the Voice as divisive.

“This will be a unifying moment for this country and it will be a unifying moment because 97% of Australians will say, we want recognition of the 3% of First Nations people because we all share the extraordinary history in this country, and of a culture that goes back longer than any other,” she said.

“That is all of our inheritance and that is why it will be a unifying moment.”

While the date for the referendum has not been set, Ms Burney said that it will be “in the last part of this year”.

There had been speculation that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese would make the announcement at next month’s Garma Festival in North East Arnhem Land.

The annual event on Yolngu Country is considered Australia’s most significant Indigenous gathering and has long been associated with the movement for constitutional change.

While Mr Albanese used the event last year to unveil the referendum question, he has declared that he will make the announcement after the event.

“The Prime Minister has said that he will not be announcing the date at Garma but I am sure that his speech will be very informative,” Ms Burney said.

“I’m doing the keynote address.. and there is a very strong contingent of people going to Garma.”

In wrapping up her visit to Wagga, the Minister told the Riverina to take a close look at the official information and to get behind the campaign.

“I hope more than anything but the answer is Yes. Yes to the Uluru Statement from the heart. Yes to our Voice to Parliament. And yes to a better future.”

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