2 December 2022

First Nations leaders 'disappointed' as Nationals reject Voice to Parliament

| Chris Roe
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people at festival

As acting Prime Minister, Michael McCormack (third from right) attended the Barunga Festival in 2021 with Ken Wyatt (far left) and Malarndirri McCarthy (centre). Photo: Close the Gap (Twitter).

Riverina MP and former Nationals leader Michael McCormack has backed his party’s decision to reject the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

“They promised to give more detail. They promised to give clarity around certain issues and to this point they haven’t,” he said.

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Mr McCormack joined his National Party colleagues and NT Country Liberal Party senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price in pledging to oppose Labor’s plan to hold a referendum to establish a constitutionally enshrined ‘Voice’ to advise the Federal Government on Indigenous issues.

“You just don’t want to have a referendum forced down people’s throat where it’s almost an emotional blackmail against them,” he said, alluding to the proposal’s origin in the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ signed by more than 250 Aboriginal leaders from across the country in 2017.

“In as much as it’s ‘from the heart’, I think people need to use their heads a little bit more, as Jacinta Price quite correctly points out, and just consider what are the ramifications of this?”

Wiradjuri Elders in Wagga agree that there is a lack of information around what form the Voice will take and what it will mean for them, but expressed disappointment that the National Party had declared a position so soon.

“‘I’m really disappointed with the whole attitude and I think it’s up to the people. We all get one vote,” said Aunty Cheryl Penrith.

“We want to know more about it too, but we can’t just say ‘no’ when we haven’t had a big conversation about it.”

Uncle James Ingram remains wary of what the tradeoff could be in establishing a Voice to Parliament but said that whatever happened, Aboriginal voices needed to be heard.

“It all comes back to what they say about ‘closing the gap’. There’s still no improvement,” he said.

“Government’s been handing out money to organisations that include very few Aboriginal people at the top or even in middle management.”

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The 2022 Closing the Gap report was released on Wednesday (30 November) and shows limited progress in improving outcomes for Indigenous Australians and details a worsening in several target areas including suicide rates, incarceration and child removals.

Aunty Cheryl questioned the timing of the announcement on the eve of the report’s release.

“They got in yesterday because the results come out today and we’re still behind in a lot of things,” she said.

“I would like to see people who live in communities who know what the problems are be involved in finding the solutions.”

She said improving outcomes for First Nations would require “Yindyamarra“, the Wiradjuri concept of a gentle and respectful approach to life.

“It takes time and you can’t rush. You have to talk about these things and to listen,” she said.

Aunty Cheryl Penrith

Wiradjuri elder Aunty Cheryl Penrith says closing the gap will take “Yindyamarra”. Photo: Chris Roe.

Aboriginal Labor senator Malarndiri McCarthy is part of the team working with Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney, and Special Envoy, Senator Patrick Dodson, to implement the Voice to Parliament.

She remains hopeful that Nationals members will dialogue with them and rejects claims that there is no information available.

“I’d ask Michael McCormack, when was the last time you met with Linda Burney to get a briefing? When was the last time you met with Senator Pat Dodson and when was the last time you asked me about what was going on?” she asked.

“We would warmly welcome you and let you know the latest.

“So we will reach out, not only to Michael McCormack, but to all members of parliament and say, ‘Don’t walk away. You will regret that. This is a wonderful time for our country, and I ask you to stay at the table’.”

3 people

Michael McCormack and Malarndiri McCarthy at a recent visit to parliament by Riverina school students. Photo: Michael McCormack, Facebook.

This week’s announcement has already caused a rift within conservative ranks.

Nationals frontbencher Andrew Gee said it was “absurd” for him to be expected to switch his longstanding support for the Voice.

“While I respect the opinions of my colleagues, I’m still a supporter,” he declared on his Facebook page.

“There is still a heck of a lot of hard work to do. To achieve a Voice we’ll need that as well as goodwill, open minds and generosity of spirit.”

The former minister for Indigenous affairs under the Morrison government, Noongar man Ken Wyatt, also criticised the Nationals’ position saying he was “extremely disappointed”.

Speaking to the ABC today (30 November) he said he had delivered a “detailed” report, including a proposed model for a Voice to Parliament, to the Coalition cabinet on two occasions.

The work done during his time in parliament will form the foundation of the proposal that Labor will seek to take to a referendum.

“To my mind, it offers up a level of immaturity around a very complex issue,” he said.

“I challenge every federal member to get out of their offices, go to the Aboriginal organisations within their electorates, sit and listen to the issues, see firsthand what Aboriginal people are talking about.”

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When asked about consultation with First Nations people, Mr McCormack conceded that there is widespread support for the Voice to Parliament, but said the focus should be on outcomes.

“They are, in principle, supportive of the Voice, and you can understand that when Aboriginal people are told that they’re going to get something that they haven’t had before, well, of course they’re going to be supportive of it.

“But what I think Aboriginal people, Wiradjuri or otherwise, should be really also asking is, well, is this going to improve mental health? Is this going to improve dental health? Is this going to improve the job prospects of my children?”

Mr McCormack said he would give consideration to a model when it was finally presented, but for the time being, remained opposed to the referendum.

“Until we get some clarity around these issues, then I don’t support a Voice and I’m worried that it’s going to be foisted on us over the summer period when people quite frankly are distracted about other things.”

Original Article published by Chris Roe on Region Riverina.

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