News / Politics

Indigenous Voice campaign kicks off in Brunswick

Large crowd turns out to hear the case for voting Yes at this year’s referendum 

Marcia Langton, Marcus Stewart and Peter Khalil at the forum on Wednesday night.

Mark Phillips
Friday, February 3, 2023

THE local campaign for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament was unofficially launched on Wednesday night when one of its co-designers laid out the case for a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum to a packed house at Brunswick Town Hall.  

Professor Marcia Langton, who is co-chair of the Voice Senior Advisory Group and a member of the First Nations Referendum Working Group, implored the audience not to let this opportunity slip to include recognition of Indigenous people in the constitution.  

She said the adoption of the Voice would be a significant milestone on the road to reconciliation and would make a practical difference to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around Australia. 

Professor Langton, who is one of Australia’s foremost Indigenous academics and lives in Brunswick, was appearing at a public forum organised by the federal Member for Wills, Peter Khalil, alongside the Co-Chair of the First People’s Assembly of Victoria, Marcus Stewart. 

Despite only being announced a few days earlier, the event in the main chamber of the Brunswick Town Hall was standing room only with an estimated attendance of about 400 people. 

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Opening the event, Mr Khalil said the Voice referendum was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to right past wrongs in the history of relations between Indigenous Australians and their colonisers.

“In the short time since Federation, this nation every so often is briefly awakened,” he said

“The people of Australia from time to time are jolted out of our comfortable complacency, awakened from our slumber. To make decisions about who we are, who we might be, decisions that shape our identity, our purpose and shape our collective future … We are once again called as a people to make a decision. Called to a referendum that goes to the heart of our nation. A referendum to decide whether we have a constitutionally enshrined, a guaranteed First Nations Voice to Parliament, which enables First Nation peoples to advise on decisions that directly impact them.”

Mr Stewart said the Voice was “a phenomenal opportunity and one we need to seize with both hands”. 

“We have here an opportunity to improve the lives of our people, to be the tide that raises all ships and start chipping away at the unfortunate data we see in the Closing the Gaps reports,” he said. 

“We know that we’ll see major success and achievements for our people when we put our people in the driver’s seat and it starts with a Voice to Parliament and implementing the Uluru statement in full which follows by Treaty and follows by Truth.” 

Professor Langton traced the long history leading up to this year’s referendum, which she said began at the 1996 reconciliation convention in Melbourne through the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017 which set out the ambition for an Indigenous Voice.  

A lifelong campaigner for Indigenous rights who was appointed to her current position by Coalition Government Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt, Professor Langton said no stone had been unturned in designing the Voice process. 

She said there was a mountain of detail available for anyone wanting to understand how a Voice would work in practice. 

“[It] is a mechanism in order for Indigenous people to be consulted before the Parliament acts or enacts legislation so we can point out when legislation might be harmful, what its consequences might be, how could it be improved, how could it be co-designed so local Aboriginal people have a say in matters that affect them,” she said. 

Professor Marcia Langton said the Voice would have no impact on First Nations sovereignty. Photo: Peter Casamento/Casamento Photography

Professor Langton was scornful of prominent opponents and sceptics of the Voice, including the National Party and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who she said were guilty of deliberate ignorance of history and had a track record of opposing Indienous rights and reconciliation. She said claims that there was not enough detail about the proposal were disingenous.

But she reserved her most scathing criticism for Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe who has said she is likely to campaign for a No vote. 

At a Survival Day rally in Melbourne last week, Senator Thorpe said Indigenous people deserved better than an advisory body and there should be a Treaty before a Voice.

But Professor Langton said Senator Thorpe was a “wrecker” who she accused of attempting to undermine Victoria’s Treaty process. 

“She’s trying to wreck the Voice as well,” she said. 

“I plead with you to educate yourselves about the history of all these things and have a look at who the reliable leaders are who have been on the frontline trying to make changes for the better and people who are inclusive, people who don’t scream hatred, people who want an Australia where our children and grandchildren can live in peace, and with goodwill towards each other.” 

Professor Langton, Mr Stewart and Mr Khalil also sought to reassure the audience that the Voice would not diminish First Nations sovereignty. 

“All our legal advice is that constitutional entrenchment of a voice would not affect Indigenous sovereignty — and I accept that advice,” said Professor Langton, adding that in her view sovereignty was based on spiritual connection to country. 

The date for the referendum and final wording of the question to be put to voters have not yet been announced, but it is likely to be held in the second half of this year. 

Mr Khalil said the referendum was the first part of the Albanese Government’s commitment to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full with Voice to be followed by a Treaty and Truth.

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