Indigenous | First Nation

Australia’s Voice for first nations referendum failing to attract much support

The latest polls for Australia’s groundbreaking referendum about whether to change the constitution to recognise the first peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice this year aren’t looking too good for the “Yes” campaign.

‘The Voice’ would be an independent and permanent advisory body giving advice to the Australian parliament and government on matters that affect the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Sydney’s Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council chief executive Nathan Moran says with the polls below 50 per cent in favour, that’s below the required level to pass it as legislation.

With Australian history steeped in the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Moran says one factor contributing to the ‘no’ side having more support is to do with the early days of the notorious ‘whites only’ policy, known then as the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901, and carrying a racist ideal that is still being seen today.

“[Australia’s] foundations as a penal colony could never be explained more than about a culture that’s embedded as a jail. It was founded as a jail, those are its foundations as a culture, and then its policies to make it exclusionary.

“When it comes to referendums generally, Australia’s not got a history of approving them or supporting them.

“When it comes to Aboriginal rights, it’s probably worse than the other referendums.”

Although mana whenua in New South Wales and Northern Territory states have representative systems, Moran says it needs to be elevated to national level across all states and territories.

“Without a national system, it is not fair, equitable, successful, or efficient to have a system whereby New South Wales or Northern Territory have any legislative land rights. That is not a good model for two of us out of the states and territories empowered to elect and have our own representatives, acknowledging that those two representative systems are yet to fully embrace or represent the culture.”

And there has been some support from Aboriginals towards the ‘No’ campaign too, including politicians. But Moran says there are two sides to the ‘no’: not giving rights and the referendum not giving enough rights.

Regardless, Moran is still advocating for a ‘yes’ vote

“They’re really sceptical people, Australians. As I said, the record shows they’ve not supported their own proposals for referendums and, quite frankly, have not been very friendly to first nations. We forced them to the Commonwealth’s court to get them to even acknowledge we existed in 1993. To hopefully become acknowledged as equal human beings is quite a hard task on this side of the Tasman.”

Public Interest Journalism