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Assembly co-chairs front media after "disheartening" referendum result

Dechlan Brennan -

Two members of the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria fronted the press on Sunday morning after Australia overwhelmingly voted No in the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum.

Bangerang, Taungurung and Wiradjuri woman, Aunty Esme Bamblett and Assembly co-chair and Gunditjmara man, Reuben Berg, told reporters that the result "hurt" but it would not distract from the work that was taking place in Victoria around Treaty.

"There's no beating around the bush, the referendum result hurt, and it really does. And we know today that a lot of them are mourning as a result. The number one priority must be to look after each other," Aunty Esme said.

"While we believed that a Voice to Parliament at national level would have been complementary to our work as a Treaty assembly, it's important to remember that constitutional reform isn't the only show in town here in Victoria."

Aunty Esme said the Treaty process was making "great progress" in Victoria and the eventual outcome would see decision making powers ultimately in the hands of Aboriginal people.

On the Voice, the two both noted the disappointment they felt at the result.

Mr Berg, who previously told National Indigenous Times about his disappointment around the misinformation present during the campaign, said it had been "disheartening" when the information put forward by First Nations people was dismissed and countered with obvious disinformation.

"(It was) a heartbreaking thing to go through and that's why I think it's incredibly important we continue to have these conversations to get the information out there," he said.

"I always encourage people that if you've heard something that sounds too good to be true, or sounds too unbelievable to be true, it's probably not true. Go to the sources, come and talk to us (the Assembly)."

Yes23 Campaigner and Kaurareg Aboriginal and Kalkalgal, Erubamle Torres Strait Islander man, Thomas Mayo, said after the election result, he believed opposition leader Peter Dutton had been "dishonest" and "lied to the Australian people."

"So, when we succeed at this, let it be known that they did that. That they have lied to the Australian people. That dishonesty should not be forgotten," he said.

Aunty Esme agreed that the media coverage had been "really bad," especially from "the conservative media," with disinformation rife.

She said she believed First Nations voices had only been given prominence towards the end of the campaign, "when people had already formed opinions."

"The media needs to be more truthful," she said.

"Give us as much time and effort in the papers as other people get, as the misinformation mob get, find out the truth and print the truth or interview people who are going to speak the truth."

In response to National Indigenous Times inquiring whether the two agreed with Indigenous academic Prof. Marcia Langton telling Guardian Australia she feared reconciliation was "dead," Mr Berg said he didn't believe that to be the case.

"I feel that we've had a huge number of Australians come out and support this - not the number we needed - but there is a huge amount of support out there still," he said.

"This referendum was about a very particular question, about a very particular change to our Constitution.

"Clearly that has not been supported, but that doesn't mean that people don't support First Peoples. I have confidence in Australians, I know that Australians want better outcomes for other Australians, they're going to want better outcomes for us as First Peoples as the first Australians and I have confidence in that."

Aunty Esme noted reconciliation was a "long process," and one of the reasons the vote hadn't succeeded came down to a lot of people who "don't know about Aboriginal people".

"They don't live in our communities; they don't work in our communities and they don't know what we go through. They don't know the extent of dispossession and they don't know the history," she said.

Victoria recorded the highest Yes vote out of any state - albeit still under 50 per cent - and Mr Berg said this wasn't surprising.

"We've seen some really amazing progress we're already making here in Victoria, and I expect us to continue making that amazing progress," he said.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan, whose predecessor Daniel Andrews played a significant role in the establishment of the Assembly, acknowledged that a lot of "First Nations people will be hurting today".

"We know that for many Australians, the pain they feel will linger – and for others, it may never fade at all," she said in a statement.

"To First Nations people, we say this clearly: Victorians respect you and your culture."

Constitutional lawyer Greg Craven previously said of the Voice question, "Frankly, the voice is a proposal so pathetically understated that I'm amazed most Indigenous people are settling for it."

Asked – in reference to statement - how it felt that even a small change was overwhelmingly rejected, Mr Berg said it was "disheartening".

"I always try and have as much faith and hope and optimism as I can, and so I'm hopeful that if we can continue to have these conversations, that the door is not closed for these conversations to be had in the future," he said.

"But right now, for our community, we need some time to take just a break and take a breath. And here in Victoria in particular, we're going to be focused on the treaty making process and we're hopeful that other States and territories can continue on their own process as well."

Both Mr Berg and Aunty Esme acknowledged that First Nations people would be hurting, and encouraged anyone to reach out if they were struggling.

"We know the referendum has been hard going for the community. We fought really hard to get the referendum up. We're mob. We've been here for thousands of years and we're not going anywhere. We are strong, resilient and deadly."


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