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“Vote No for the Voice”, says Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price


By Alistair Gray




It was a perfect Bribie morning. The sun was out and umbrellas were up as more than 300 Bribie Islanders gathered at the Bribie Hotel to hear Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price discuss why we should vote NO in the up-and-coming Voice Referendum. As senator for the Northern Territory and former deputy mayor of Alice Springs, she understands well what the Voice means for Indigenous Australians and all Australians. Her address was insightful and welcomed by the assembled crowd. Member for Longman Terry Young opened the meeting.

Like most Australians, Mr Young said he favoured constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“John Howard, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison, all the autonomous prime ministers, tried to work with the Labor Party to make this a reality,” Mr Young said. “However, the demands were not practical or achievable. No party has done more for the indigenous people in Australia than the Liberal Party. There was a coalition under Harold Holt, who in 1967 held a successful referendum to change the constitution to allow Aboriginal people the right to vote, to be counted in the census and be part of an electorate.

“The first indigenous federal member of parliament was Neville Bonner - a Liberal. The first affairs minister that was indigenous was Ken Wyatt, again a Liberal.

There is no question there is a gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. The statistics show that indigenous Australians have higher incarceration rates, unemployment, suicide, health issues, domestic violence and substance abuse than non-indigenous Australians. These statistics also show they have a lower standard of living and education and less chance of making a go in life in general. The Australians I spoke to don't want this and we all want the gap to close. But the question is, will the proposed indigenous Voice to Parliament close the gap? I think not. I'm against the proposed voice department for many reasons, but the main reasons are these.

“First, to take an issue as serious as this to a referendum without first legislating it to me is stupidity. If this government wants to make this change it should be first done through legislation. I say this because I don't care if Albert Einstein wrote the proposed document, no one can foresee all the issues that could arise in the future. Legislating it allows amendments to be easily made through the parliamentary process at no cost to the taxpayer. In contrast, by enshrining it in the constitution from the start any future changes will need to be done by a referendum at a cost today of $300 million for each change. This is akin to buying a car without taking a test drive and that will just be plain dumb.

“Secondly, this will be a Canberra-based voice that won't consider the needs and opinions of the indigenous people outside of Canberra. I'm sure there will be token discussions with the various groups. But at the end of the day, the Canberra elite will have the final say and that's not right. I want people like Aunty Flo, Uncle Mick and Michelle (some of our community elders) to have the greatest say in what's best to close the gap in our community, not some Canberra elite.

“Thirdly, with three levels of government we're already over-governed. I regularly see developments like North Harbour, infrastructure like the Bruce Highway and issues like the housing shortage delayed because all three levels of government must do a report and have their say. To add another body that must be consulted, will just further slow down much-needed projects for the Australian people and I cannot support anything or anyone that does this.

“Lastly and most importantly, the motivation behind this initiative is to unite our country, which is commendable. But in reality, I firmly believe it will have the opposite effect and will divide our nation and undo much of the healing that has taken place to this point. We will never heal as a nation until we stop talking about indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and accept that we all are simply Australians. I will finish with this statement. There is already an indigenous Voice to Parliament. Three percent of the population identifies as indigenous and five percent of elected members and senators identify as indigenous. That is the indigenous Voice to Parliament. We don't need another one.”

Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price opened her comments by saying she loves Queensland. She is very passionate about her opposition to the Voice to Parliament and what it means for not just our most marginalised indigenous Australians, but all Australians and her own family.

I haven't worked hard to make my way into federal parliament to be told that my voice is insignificant,” Senator Price said. “While we celebrate the fact that there is an over representation of indigenous parliamentarians, you're still not good enough. Because we need a Voice to Parliament, it lacks any detail of how it will operate. How our most marginalised will gain from it? I didn't come this far to be told this.”

Senator Price then related her personal story to set the context. Her grandparents grew up in the bush in central Australia. They first came across ‘the white fella’ in their early adolescence with their world-changing rapidly. Her forward-thinking grandfather wanted to embrace change. Her mother who was born under a tree, grew up partly living in a traditional humpy-style shelter. English was not her first language, it was probably her third language. She wanted a life on her terms, an education and a way out of the traditional way of life. She gave birth to Jacinta, earned a university degree and went on to become a minister in the Northern Territory government and the only woman in the cabinet at that time. She became the minister for local government and had the joy of swearing in her daughter Jacinta as a councillor of Alice Springs Town Council. Now, her daughter has become the senator for the Northern Territory and the shadow minister for indigenous Australians.

“Neither my mother nor I required a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament to earn these accomplishments in our lives. We worked hard and got there because Australia provided the opportunities for us to do so. And they still exist for every Australian. The Voice to Parliament suggests that, as a racial group of Australians, we are inherently disadvantaged for no other reason but because of our race. To me that is racism and I won’t stand for it.”

The senator said the proposed Voice to Parliament suggested we should do something different, so let’s build an expensive bureaucracy. No different than we have done before but we stick it into our constitution where we know we can’t dismantle it if it fails.

“What we haven't done is identify where the real marginalisation exists. The further you move out from a capital city in our country, the more marginalised Australians become and that is everybody,” Senator Price said. “But it just so happens that our most marginalised are in the remotest parts of this country where their first language is not English. Where they still live a traditional form of life. They are our most marginalised. Privileged indigenous Australians, the elites, want to inject themselves into our constitution and suggest that this voice will help them when they have been at the helm for decades. They’ve done very little to help the most marginalised. We should be serving Australians based on need, not based on race. This is why we can't support the voice.

Senator Price then talked about the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the notion that all Aboriginal people think the same, believe it, get behind it and support the values and initiatives.

“We know that is simply not true and we don’t treat any other race of Australians along these lines,” she said. “The Uluru Statement from the Heart had a conversation with 1200 indigenous people from around the country, all handpicked by those running the dialogues. Some didn’t agree at the final stage and there are those who walked out. Those who disagreed were threatened with cultural punishment if they didn’t agree or walked out. And then 250 unelected individuals signed the Uluru statement and so started one of the largest PR campaigns.

“The proponents of the voice don't even have a spiritual connection to Uluru. Unlike someone like me who does have a connection to that part of the land. Our family has a dreaming story that travels from our country and comes to Uluru, but our family's signature is not on the Uluru statement. Australians are being sold a lie to suggest that this wonderful event, this wonderful statement, is somehow backed by all indigenous Australians when it simply is not. And our job is to make sure that those voices that don't support the voice are heard throughout the lead-up to this referendum.

“This is the best country on the face of the earth and it is so because every single one of us has contributed to this wonderful nation. Whether we come from the first people, whether we come from the settlers, the convicts of which I'm all part of that. Or whether we come from the migrant community. We have all contributed to this country together and know how great it is. We must bring it back and believe in and be proud of our wonderful Australian values. To be proud to be Australian once again. Voting NO in this referendum is a huge step in that direction.”

During the general discussion, concern was expressed that the voice would have the opportunity to make representations to the executive. The executive is not just the government, it's not just parliamentarians. It's also state, territory, governments, local government, your local council, the bureaucracies, the agencies, the public service, with significant potential delays to decision-making. The lack of detail was troubling and a red flag for why we should vote NO to the voice. Space doesn’t allow me to go into more detail, but one comment from Senator Price stood out, which I am sure will interest our readers. “We haven’t taken a fine-tooth comb and done a forensic audit of the $33 billion spent to address the gap and to address the disadvantage and hold to account those who have not produced the outcomes they should have to close the gap. We're hoping to regain government again. And if I was still holding the indigenous affairs portfolio, that is one of the first steps I will implement going forward.”

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