Introduction by Croakey: Amid public debate about the Voice referendum that is being fuelled by fear, misinformation and disinformation, this “might be the ugliest week Aboriginal people have been subjected to in what can feel like an interminable campaign”, according to ABC’s Indigenous Affairs Editor, Bridget Brennan.
“The debate over the creation of a Indigenous advisory body has burst into a cacophony of noise, misinformation, confusion and abuse,” she wrote in an article headlined, ‘A bruising week for Indigenous people as the nation debates the Voice and opens old wounds’.
Meanwhile, former Liberal MP and legendary ultra marathon runner Pat Farmer has urged his former Coalition colleagues to end “the wedge politics”, and to consider the true asks of the Voice referendum, Marie McInerney reports below.
As Farmer continues on his 14,400 kilometre, six-month run around Australia to promote awareness, understanding and support of the Voice, many thousands of Australians are expected to take to the streets this weekend, for mass walks in support of the Voice.
Meanwhile, Michael Long – who also spoke with McInerney recently – is due to end his walk from Naarm/Melbourne to Canberra tomorrow (Thursday).
Marie McInerney writes:
Former Liberal MP and legendary ultra marathon runner Pat Farmer has urged his former Coalition colleagues to “dive into their hearts” to consider the true asks of the Voice referendum and stop fighting it, so vigorously, to serve their own political interests.
Speaking last Friday on the Melbourne leg of his #RunForTheVoice, a 14,400 kilometre, six-month run around Australia to promote awareness, understanding and support of the Voice, Farmer said the Coalition was “playing wedge politics” on the referendum.
“They see this as an issue where they can divide the nation and they’re working on the old philosophy of ‘divide and conquer’, so they can get back into government,” he told Croakey.
“But at what cost? At a cost of ruining the country, at a cost of ruining the livelihoods, the hopes, the dreams, of many First Nations people.”
He said his appeal to his former colleagues, from the moment he began his marathon run, was to “understand what being a politician is truly being about. It’s about being a leader in the community, it’s about understanding you need to put people before party.
“If you can do that, you’ll see this is the absolutely the right thing to do.”
Farmer said many rights and freedoms that non-Indigenous people take for granted have not been given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“We took that away from them. Here’s an opportunity to do the right thing and give something back, so I’m asking all those people in the Coalition….(to) dive inside your heart, think clearly about this and stop fighting this so vigorously because the grounds you’re fighting it on are just completely wrong.”
The former MP, who represented the NSW electorate of Macarthur from 2001-2010 , said Australians should learn from the scare-mongering that had been unleashed during his time in Parliament in response to calls for a national Apology to the Stolen Generations.
“Nobody lost their farms, nobody lost their homes,” he said of the wild claims that had been used as excuses against an Apology, “but what (the Apology) did do is went a long way towards the healing process for those children, now adults, that were taken away from their parents at such an early age and, in a lot of cases, never saw them again.”
“When I see the same rhetoric being rolled out, it makes me angry and makes me feel like I really need to do something,” Farmer said on why he had launched his marathon run which is planned to end, symbolically, at Uluru on 11 October, a few days before the historic referendum vote.
“The second reason is it’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “There’s nobody I’ve come across anywhere in this country so far that’s been able to say that the system in place is working at the moment; it’s certainly not and it hasn’t worked for the past 200 years.
“We need to close the gap, we need to make sure the health needs, education needs, infrastructure needs and cultural needs are addressed for our First Nations people so we can all, as it says in the Uluru Statement, walk forward together into a much brighter future.”
Farmer was welcomed at the stopover in inner-north Melbourne/Naarm by local MPs, including Health and Aged Care Minister Ged Kearney, Greens Leader Adam Bandt, local State Labor MP Nathan Lambert, and Victorian Labor Senator Jana Stewart.
Stewart, a Mutthi Mutthi and Wamba Wamba woman, spoke about what a Voice could offer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples — “the strength in our community is we know what our communities need”, but also what it could offer Australia.
“A Voice would offer incredible strength and unity to our country, we have 65,000 years of connection and history in Australia…That is such a thing for every Australian to treasure.”
“I want to see that 65,000 years of First Nations history connected with the Australia we are today, in our Constitution, because I truly believe that is something every Australian should be proud of…what an incredibly powerful thing for us to do as Australians.”
Critics and/or sceptics of the Voice have said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should seek election to Parliament to be heard rather than have a Voice established.
Stewart said Indigenous MPs are elected to represent all constituents, not just First Nations people and issues, and their own political parties.
The beauty of the Voice is not only that it will be elected by First Nations people but will be independent from Parliament and political parties, she said.
“It means they can truly reflect and bring to Parliament the things that are happening on the ground for First Nations communities and provide advice, frank and fearless, to Parliament and politicians about what’s happening and provide Parliament with some of the solutions to some of the challenges,” she said.
Stewart said it is incredible to currently have 11 federal MPs who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but that it might not be the same in three or ten years’ time and it was only in 2019 that the first Aboriginal person, Liberal MP Ken Wyatt, was appointed as Minister for Indigenous Australians.
A Voice would be something “that will be there into the future, unable to be taken away at the whim of any particular government or political party”, she said.
Stewart urged Australians who support the Voice to get behind the #VoteYes campaign, and particularly to share with friends, family and colleagues why they are saying yes.
“You don’t have to be the expert on all things Constitution….you never know who is looking to you to provide that leadership,” she said, encouraging people to also sign up as a campaign volunteer, to get on the phones and go out door knocking.
“If you are somebody who is saying yes, do not waste a minute between now and the referendum,” she said. “Sign up and get involved.”
This interview below had more than 91,000 views within five days.
Resources and help services
The Department of Health and Aged Care has compiled a list of free mental health and wellbeing services and supports for First Nations peoples.
Six ways to look after yourself and mob during the Voice referendum debateMedical community has role to play in achieving a Yes vote: Professor Kelvin Kong in MJA Insight
University of Melbourne resources addressing common questions
Articles of note