13 September 2023

'The biggest thing in my lifetime': AFL veteran Michael Long urges the Riverina to vote Yes

| Chris Roe
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AFL icon Michael Long is welcomed to the Riverina on Friday as he spreads his message about voting Yes in the upcoming referendum on the Voice to Parliament. Photo: Supplied.

19 years after his ”Long Walk” to speak to the Prime Minister about the plight of First Nations Australians, AFL icon Michael Long has called on Riverina communities to speak for “those who don’t have a voice”, and to vote Yes at the upcoming referendum.

“This is too important,” he said as he was welcomed to Wagga on Friday (8 September) by Wiradjuri elders and community members at Wollundry Lagoon.

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“This is the biggest thing in my lifetime and I hope that we can see the right path and the right way forward, together as Australians.”

Long was joined by Olympian and former senator Nova Peris as the Long Walk team spent the weekend in Wagga, meeting the local mob, explaining the Voice to Parliament and attending the Farrer League grand final.

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Michael Long joins the proceedings at the Farrer League decider. Photo: Supplied.

Long called for unity and urged Australians to listen to Aboriginal people and put politics aside.

“Whenever people read the Uluru Statement, it’s all about love and coming together,” he said.

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“It’s about acknowledging First Australians, but it’s about moving forward. It’s about moving forward together.

“The Uluru Statement from the Heart was from Aboriginal people, given to both governments.

“Aboriginal people want to see change, but yet we see a divide. We’re better than that.”

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Michael Long and Nova Peris join local Aboriginal elders to advocate for the Voice. Photo: Supplied.

Nova Peris related a conversation an Aboriginal friend had with his non-Indigenous neighbour.

“He asked him, ‘If the Voice doesn’t get up, how are you going to feel tomorrow? And the neighbour said, ‘It won’t make any difference to me, mate’, and he said, ‘That’s right. It won’t make any difference to you. But it’ll mean a lot to us.”

She also rejected the claim that the referendum would lead to further division.

“Aboriginal people want two simple things,” she said.

“Recognise us on the country’s birth certificate as the firstborn. Very simple.

“And secondly, allow us to ensure that when policies are made, it doesn’t harm us and hurt us, so we’re not here in another 20 years still trying to close the gap.”

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Nova Peris, Joe Williams and Michael Long at the footy on Sunday. Photo: Supplied.

Since his first Long Walk in 2004, Michael Long has met several prime ministers and reflected on the early support for constitutional recognition from Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, and the work done under Scott Morrison’s government to lay the foundation for the Voice to Parliament.

Former Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, oversaw the initial design process under the previous administration, but this year quit the Liberal Party when Opposition leader Peter Dutton declared his opposition to the Voice.

“They [the Liberal Party] were actually going to put this forward. That’s why Ken Wyatt left the party, because they didn’t read the report, yet they’re advocating against it,” Long said, expressing frustration over the decline in bipartisan support.

“This is a referendum. It’s not an election. Don’t forget that.”

“This is a referendum. It’s not an election.” Michael Long urged unity in supporting Aboriginal Australia. Photo: Chris Roe.

He pointed to the continued widening of the Close the Gap targets and poor outcomes for his people and said it was time to try a new way and to ensure that Aboriginal voices were heard by the parliament.

“We need to be included in the constitution so we can make decisions and inform decisions so we’re part of the solution, not just part of the problem,” he explained.

“But we can’t do it without any of yous. We’re gonna do this together.”

The Long walk is continuing on to Gundagai on Tuesday and the team aims to arrive in Canberra on Wednesday.

You can learn more about the Long Walk here.

The referendum will be held on October 14 and you can learn more about both perspectives here.

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