5 September 2023

Aboriginal elder resigns from council committee over Voice recommendation

| Claire Sams
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A photo of Uncle Bunja Smith

Walbunja elder Bunja Smith has resigned from a council committee, saying he was “disappointed” in the council’s decision. Photo: Supplied.

A respected Aboriginal elder has resigned from a council committee after the Eurobodalla Shire Council voted against the committee’s recommendation.

Walbunja elder Bunja Smith had served as a member of the Eurobodalla Aboriginal Advisory Committee, a body that advises Eurobodalla Shire Council (ESC) on matters relevant and important to the region’s Aboriginal community.

Having joined the committee earlier this year, Mr Smith said he made the decision to resign following the council’s August meeting, in which councillors amended a recommendation from the committee. He also said he wanted to focus more on his other commitments.

“There’s a lot of things that I do in the community that take up a lot of my time,” he said.

“You have to prioritise where you are going to focus your energies.”

The contentious recommendation was given after the advisory committee held an extraordinary meeting in July, in which they unanimously voted that Eurobodalla Shire Council should support the ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming referendum and advertise that decision.

Following a lengthy discussion, councillors voted to approve an amended version of the original motion.

They decided to note the recommendation, and that ESC encouraged the community to visit information on its website.

Mr Smith said he felt there had been a lack of consultation in the process.

“If they weren’t happy with it, I would have expected the mayor would come back to us,” he said.

“They acknowledged our recommendation, but then they went ahead with their own, which was very watered down, and it didn’t do what we asked them to do.

“I was very disappointed that no process occurred, that they didn’t bother to come to talk to us.”

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He said he was unaware of the replacement motion that went to a vote before the council’s August meeting, which he said was pre-prepared.

“I expected that they would put our motion up, and it would either be voted for or voted against,” he said.

“Well, they didn’t put that motion up – they put up another motion.

“They went to that meeting, knowing full well what they were going to do, and that’s why I’m disappointed.

“They couldn’t come and have a conversation with us, or even pick up the phone.”

Despite the circumstances of his resignation, Mr Smith said his overall experience as a member of the committee was positive.

“The committee was active, and we achieved a quorum every time we met, basically,” he said.

“The things that would come before the committee were relevant and I felt that it was a good working committee.”

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Mr Smith said there was no bad blood between himself and other members.

“That [the resignation] doesn’t mean the committee falls over; it wasn’t a hateful, spiteful thing,” he said.

“I just don’t feel like this is for me, but that means there is a vacant seat for another Aboriginal person from the community.

“I just felt that was what I needed to do, based on my time and the way council treated the recommendation after the mayor asked us for it.”

Mr Smith said he saw the proposed Voice to Parliament as a chance for a new beginning.

“I believe that a ‘No’ vote just gives me more of the same; I believe that the ‘Yes’ vote will give me hope and an opportunity for change,” he said.

In the 15 August meeting, the amended version of the motion was passed 7–2.

The full meeting agenda and minutes can be found on Eurobodalla Shire Council’s website.

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patricia gardiner3:59 pm 05 Sep 23

It is a great shame that Bunja has resigned due to disppointment with council’s response to the committee’s advice.
His statement in regard to the amended recommendation, “it didn’t do what we asked them to do,” is of concern. This is because the Voice to parliament will operate in the same way – advice provided may be actioned, modified, noted or rejected.
I do wonder if this fact is understood by voters.
What will the reaction be if advice provided by the Voice is not actioned? Will it cause discontent and unrest?

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