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"Hope is such a powerful medicine": Yes campaigners highlight benefits of Voice

Dechlan Brennan -

The Yes campaign used an event in Melbourne on Thursday to urge people that a Yes vote would be a decision that would help bring all Australians together.

In front of members of the First Peoples' Assembly and Yes campaign volunteers, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) CEO and Gunditjmara woman, Aunty Jill Gallagher, spoke of her mother and the pride it would bring her for the Yes vote to succeed.

"She was born in 1926, so she's lived through the weight of hate, through the impacts of racism," Aunty Jill said.

"And she lived through six of her ten children being taken off her; not because she was a bad mum. It was just because she was black.

"She is alive today, and she is watching her country that will hopefully support us."

Despite polls throughout the country showing the Yes campaign facing an uphill battle to win on Saturday, Gooreng Gooreng woman and Yes23 spokesperson, Jade Ritchie told National Indigenous Times that everywhere she has campaigned, she's seen "much more positive than negative."

"This is about driving. This is about our opportunity. So, I'm not willing to concede at all," she said.

"I know that there's still so much opportunity for us to get exactly what we need, which is an advisory committee to parliament.

"I know that so many people have worked so hard for this and there's still time. There are still undecided people, so we can go and have those conversations. There is still time to get the majority of voting states to vote yes."

Ms Ritchie also was critical of so-called "progressive no" voters who were campaigning against the Voice.

"People are saying this isn't enough. This isn't progressive enough. This isn't strong enough," she said.

Her comments come on the same day Independent senator and No campaigner, Lidia Thorpe, said a failed referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament would be a win for the Black sovereign movement.

"What plan B have they come up with? This is something that's on the table. It's tangible. It's something we can work with. Because we know our solutions. We need a voice. That's it!" Ms Ritchie said.

Privately, at least two members of the Assembly and Yes23 have told National Indigenous Times that the Blak Sovereign movement - however well intentioned - had been an unnecessary distraction to the Voice campaign.

Yes23 campaigner and Kaurareg Aboriginal and Kalkalgal, Erubamle Torres Strait Islander man, Thomas Mayo, said everywhere he has been throughout the country, he has been struck by the positivity.

"Happy smiling faces, willing to answer questions. That gives me great optimism. Especially when I know there are a lot of Australians who are still undecided," he said.

The event at Federation Square struck a placid tone, with many of the speakers highlighting the Voice's uplifting benefit to First Nations people, whilst simultaneously stressing the little real-world impact it would have on non-Indigenous Australians.

Aunty Jill said more than 200 hundred years of colonisation and oppression was not the responsibility of any Australians alive today, but that there was a responsibility for people to vote yes and help Aboriginal people "get some change".

In response to a question from National Indigenous Times about health outcomes in relation to the Voice, Aunty Jill said the Voice at a national level would be like the voice already legislated to First Nations people in Victoria.

"It elevates our issues that we've got; if we have Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands, if we are in the driver's seat, if we can influence the policies and the decisions, there will be better outcomes for our people," she said.

Marcus Stewart said the referendum was a "simple ask". (Image: Dechlan Brennan)

Former co-chair of the First Peoples' Assembly and Nira illim bulluk man, Marcus Stewart, echoed Aunty Jill's comments, arguing that the referendum was a "simple ask".

"For Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people to simply be heard on matters that affect them…and their communities," he said.

"We know for too long Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people haven't been heard. And that's why they've asked for a voice. We know (Aboriginal) outcomes can be significantly different when they're simply listened to.

"Whether it's Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands. Whether it's Aboriginal programmes on employment and seeing how young people go into jobs and increasing employment rates. We know our community has the solutions to the challenges we face."

Senator and Yanyuwa woman Malarndirri McCarthy, who defended the Northern Territory over the weekend from claims made by former Prime Minister John Howard that it amounted to a "failed state," said she was "deeply proud" of Territorians.

"I've been out at the polling booths with people in Milingimbi, across north-east Arnhem Land. I've seen the Tiwi votes come through by Marion Scrymgour (Labor member for Lingiari)," she said.

"We have amazing teams right out across the Northern Territory who are feeding back to me the incredible support for yes and I'm very excited actually, when we get to Saturday, what the outcome is for First Nations people, in particular in the NT."

Over 30 per cent of the Territory is made up of First Nations people, making up almost 8 per cent of the total Australian Aboriginal population. The referendum will only see Territorian votes counted towards the overall vote, and not the state majority needed for the referendum to pass.

Aunty Jill Gallagher closed the press conference by saying her mother "grew up without hope, and hope is such a powerful medicine".

"I believe in hope as a powerful medicine, it's something that our communities haven't had for a long time, and this little glimpse of hope, that we are going to be heard, is an amazing thing. It beats all medicines you can think of," she said.

"Please vote yes, because that hope is such a powerful thing, and you can do that."

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