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Western Australian launch of Yes campaign for Voice sparks debate

Emma Ruben -

The Western Australian 'yes' campaign for the Voice kicked off on Thursday evening in Boorloo (Perth) as Aboriginal leaders concurred it was "long time coming" while some audience members voiced their frustration at the state's high rate of Indigenous incarceration, child removal and suicide.

Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders came together at Curtin University in Boorloo to discuss the Voice and kick off WA's Voice Week of Action.

Among those speaking were Labor Senator and Aboriginal Elder Pat Dodson, Noongar human rights lawyer Doctor Hannah McGlade, co-chair of the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria Marcus Stewart, Independent MP Kate Chaney and Greens Senator Dorinda Cox who appeared via video link.

Senator Dodson said having national recognition of Indigenous people will not only be a great step for First Nations people but for the entire country.

"For the first time as a 20th century so called democracy, we will be able to reflect the fact that we are committed to going in the direction of recognising human standards that have been around for a while," he said.

"But more particularly the declaration of Indigenous peoples rights as we work our way through this stuff.

"So Australia is getting out of the dark days of the colonial era and the settlement doggery and we're starting to move in a new direction."

However some members of the audience voiced their displeasure at the Voice, questioning whether or not a Voice would be able to stop problems such as deaths in custody and the rising rate of Indigenous incarceration.

At several points during the meeting's question and answer time, audience members became heated and loudly voiced their feelings.

Whadjuk Noongar woman Marianne Mackay said although Aboriginal people "have the right to be consulted" they are not.

"We already have national bodies that have a voice on behalf of our people," she said.

"Yet, our children are still taken, our women, men and kids are in jail being tortured and abused.

"A lot of my mob think the Voice is a show on Channel Seven and that's serious. I know it's funny but I'm serious."

Another Indigenous audience member asked why nothing had been done to better the lives of Aboriginal people despite the number of Aboriginal people in the senate.

"This is our country and our land yet our people are the poorest in this country," he said.

Mr Stewart in response said, what a national Voice looks like will take time to form, but shared how the First People's Assembly of Victoria functions.

"Given that we've got a really small mandate, we don't hold power. We're a representative structure elected and we also have reserved seats," he said.

"What we have is political power because we are organised, we represent our communities and we make sure we lift the voice of the voiceless and governments fear that.

"So what we are is a representation of the community we serve and that creates power for change.

"We talk about self-determination as per Article Three of the UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) which is your right to political representation and that's exactly what the Voice is."

Senator Cox who recently became the Greens' First Nations spokesperson after Lidia Thorpe resigned, said it is try to leave the old approach behind and try something new.

"We need this (the Voice) because for the last 220 years First Nations people have not had this," she said.

"And we've been subjected to countless policies, some of them well meaning but most of them absolutely devastating."

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