The referendum is not about the Voice as a stand-alone mechanism but the beginning of the process of Voice, Treaty, Truth, and Makarrata which was the method of Recognition agreed upon at all 12 dialogues held with elders and local people across Australia leading up to the Constitutional Convention at Uluru in 2017. The Statement was drafted and signed at Uluru by 250 people, most of whom came from rural and remote communities a long way from Canberra.
The Statement is a gentle document of transformation allowing for all who live in this country to begin the hard work necessary to resolve the separation of colonisation.
The Statement is a document that makes no accusations, desires no revenge, and makes no threats. It simply offers a hand of welcome to participate in a journey, a process that will lead to a better future for all Australian people.
The Statement lays out the issues we face because of dispossession but that is all. A statement of fact, not blame.
The Statement is aspirational in language and process and as such is a process that will not resolve all issues immediately or even soon.
The Statement continues the long history of our people seeking to be heard, seen, and included which began in 1846 with a petition to Queen Victoria and has continued through various petitions, statements, and dialogues since. It has seen several legislated bodies which have come and gone for a variety of ideological reasons, lots of promises by politicians to resolve the issues, and a cacophony of betrayals when those promises hit the cold hard light of politics and power.
The keywords in the Statement are seek (twice), call, and invite. Not demands but requests.
The Statement suggests the benefits of substantive constitutional change as the appropriate method for resolving the issues and recognising us as equals in the constitution.
The Statement asks us to begin that journey with recognition via a voice enshrined in the constitution which sets the process in place to address the other issues we are not yet ready to address – Treaty, Truth, and Makarratta.
Enshrining the Voice in the constitution allows us to know that it won’t suffer the fate of other bodies and it will allow us to view the issues to be resolved with a long-term lens and not one impacted by the electoral cycle which sees policies come and go in the revolving door of difference.
Recognition in the constitution rights the wrong of leaving us out in 1901 on the mistaken belief that we would not be here in 100 years (Alfred Deakin). By including us in this document we are recognised as equals and have the right to have a say on matters that affect us.
The Statement from the Heart signed at Uluru is an invitation from our heart to your heart. It is not a document all First Peoples must agree on because it is you the invitation is given to, not ourselves. Some 80-83% of our people do agree but those who don’t should not be used by you as an excuse not to do the right thing.
That Statement simply lays out the story, offering this nation a gift.
What is that gift?
The absurd compassion of the open hand and walking together to a better future for this nation. The absurd compassion of allowing you to accept the invitation with a yes and then allowing you, through your democratic processes, to shape your yes into legislation fit for purpose.
These are the two gifts packaged in the Statement – the gift of being able to say yes to the invitation to walk with us to build a better future for Australia. The second gift is that when you have opened the first you will be gifted the privilege to shape your yes through legislation. We do not demand the first, that’s an invitation; nor do we prescribe the second, that’s up to you.
At this point, I will address why I personally support Recognition via a Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
As a small boy not yet 5 I suffered sexual abuse at the hands of older children. As a result, my hip was dislocated, and I couldn’t walk. I wasn’t taken to the hospital, and it wasn’t reported to the police. I was born in 1955 in the period of assimilation and the Stolen Generation, and my family was fearful I and my brother would be taken if they did so. In the 1960s as young children, we were taught not to drink or eat anything that my mother had not prepared or approved. When we asked why my father would reply, “Poison, poison water poison flour.”
While I remember little of my primary school life, high school was very different. I was subjected to daily bullying and violence, in full view of the teachers and always without any of the perpetrators being reprimanded. In one instance, at around 17, I was king hit by two similar-age students from behind, knocked to the ground, and kicked viciously, all in front of a teacher. They left when he finally decided to head in our direction but took no action. Their bullying and bashing continued as if nothing had happened.
To my classmates, I was the son of a drunk bush black and a parent, a high-profile community leader who stated in my hearing, “You can be his friend but just remember who he is and where he comes from.” To the wider community, I was Blackfella’s Young fella, Young Blackfella or Young Darkie.
At almost 70 years of age, I am still that person. When I went back in 2018 to do a funeral, I was approached by not one but several people who, instead of referring to me by name said, “You’re Blackfella’s Youngfella, Young Blackfella aren’t ya?” A teacher who I knew and had played cricket with and said; “You’ve done well boy.”
I was 12 when the 1967 referendum passed. My father who was an excellent farmer and had made a lot of money for others put together a business plan for him and mum to purchase a farm with a post office franchise attached. We dressed up and went to the bank to meet the bank manager who was known to my father. His response: We don’t lend to people like you Blackfella. That sent our family into a spiral of trauma and violence which didn’t end for over 20 years.
Not that society cared. After one particularly traumatic event when in another of his trauma-induced rages he threatened my mother with a carving knife, I intervened and took the knife. I went to see if I could get some help. The only safe place was the church. Instead of helping they put me in the car and drove me home, dropping me outside the house. Nothing was reported, nothing was done. It was never mentioned again.
The impact of my childhood coupled with that of my father and his mother crashed down upon me and continues to impact me today. Only in the last 5 years, I have stopped having nightmares of the abuse which occurred when I was 5 and the many episodes of violence that followed. It is only now I have stopped thrashing and screaming in my sleep due to the childhood trauma which never goes away.
Yet I can’t elude the label of a deficit person, of not being equal and not being respected enough to be believed. Recently a person in a presentation like this said to my face, “ I have no time for fake Aboriginals and elites.” To which I replied, have you had your Ancestry DNA done? How much Australian are you? That’s right there is no marker for Australian, you identify as such because you were born here and that is only right. I do not question your identity don’t question mine. My father was Aboriginal, my grandmother was Aboriginal, her father was Aboriginal and so forth. I am who I say I am.
His second comment was echoed in a comment by another high-profile person who said to another, “That Glenn has something to say on everything!” Which was interpreted as me being an uppity elite blackfella who doesn’t know his place.
Why do I support the Voice?
Because I don’t want my experience to be repeated in the lives of our young people going forward. I want to ensure that they are heard, seen, and recognised as being real and equal and have a say on what matters important to them.
If you believe you want to stop the trauma-induced violence and social deficit repeatedly reported on and used as a weapon in this debate, then you have a moral responsibility to act. If just once in those 19 years, someone had seen me as a real person and listened to my voice, my childhood may have been different.
If you believe you are a fair person who treats everyone you see as equals, an equality our lived experience says is denied us, then you have a moral responsibility to act.
If you believe that all Australians are entitled to the privileges you enjoy, privileges that we don’t have, then you have a moral responsibility to act.
If you want Australia to be a fair, just, and united nation then you have the moral responsibility to pull up your big person pants and say yes.