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Hear our Voice!

Dr Samuel Bush-Blanasi -

Aboriginal people have had to fight for our voice to be heard for over two hundred years. 

Even when we speak loudly we are used to being ignored.

When Yolngu leaders from Arnhem Land sent the Yirrkala Bark Petitions to Parliament in Canberra in 1963 they said they feared “that their needs and interests will be completely ignored as they have been ignored in the past.” And they were right. They were ignored. Mining went ahead on their sacred lands without their consent.

The Mirrar spoke up loudly in the 1970s protesting against the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park. They were ignored. Mining went ahead until last year. 

The Barunga Statement in 1988, from the country of my birthplace, called on the Commonwealth Parliament “to negotiate with us a Treaty recognising our prior ownership, continued occupation and sovereignty and affirming our human rights and freedom.” We were ignored.

When we protested against the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in 2007 so the Commonwealth could implement its racist Northern Territory Emergency Response intervention, we were ignored.

When hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders gathered in central Australia in 2017 after years of deliberation and dialogue, and signed the Uluru Statement from the Heart, we were ignored. It was rejected before the ink was barely dry.

And when those old white men got together to draft the Australian Constitution in the 1890s we were included so we could be officially ignored. That lasted until it was overturned in the famous Referendum of 1967. 

Australian history is a history of ignoring Aboriginal people. 

It is a history of ignorance.

I see the sad reality of this everyday. Our proud people are suffering. Yes, we can still laugh, our families are strong and our children still play and sing. But we have too much sorry business. And now we measure the legacy of this history every year in the report on Closing the Gap. The gap is not closing. Not fast enough. Even going backwards in some areas.

We say listen to us and we will help make thing better so we can close the gap.

We say listen to us before making policies that affect us. 

Please stop ignoring us. 

Having Aboriginal politicians in Parliament is good to see. Neville Bonner was the first Aboriginal parliamentarian back in the 1970s. But politicians are there to speak for their parties, their electorates and their constituents. They are not there to be the voice for Aboriginal people.

Having powerful Aboriginal organisations like the Northern Land Council is good too. I am proud to be Chair of this great Land Council. But we have statutory functions under legislation to perform. We speak out on some of the issues that affect our constituents but we are not here to be the voice of Aboriginal people on all the issues that go before the Northern Territory and Commonwealth parliaments. 

Some Aboriginal people use their voice to say Aboriginal people don’t need a voice. That’s their right. But they are not the voice of Aboriginal people. They are individuals who are entitled to their opinion.

The truth is if you don’t have a voice you can never be heard. 

If you don’t have a voice you will always be ignored.

Aboriginal people are used to speaking and still being ignored.

That’s why we need a voice to Parliament. Not to force people to do what we say. Nobody can do that. But just to hear what we have to say. Just to listen.  

Before decisions are made that affect us, listen to our voice. And perhaps then things will change for the better.

In the Referendum I will be voting “Yes” to be better. 

I am optimistic that most Australians are ready to be better too.

 

Dr Samuel Bush-Blanasi, Chair of the Northern Land Council and 2023 Australian of the Year for the Northern Territory.

Dr Samuel Bush-Blanasi has represented his home community of Wugularr since 1989 and has served as Deputy Chair and Chair of the Northern Land Council for much of that time. The NLC supports and protects the rights and interests of the owners of land and sea country across the Top End of the Northern Territory. Early in November 2022 Dr Bush-Blanasi was recognised as the 2023 Northern Territory Australian of the Year and on 7 December 2022 was re-elected for an historic fourth term as Northern Land Council Chair.



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