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Indigenous students 'facing racism' due to voice result

Alex Mitchell -

Indigenous schoolchildren have faced racist bullying by peers who interpreted the voice referendum failure as a rejection of First Nations people, a Senate hearing has been told.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar gave the heartbreaking account at a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday night, suggesting the 'no' campaign fuelled racism and intolerance against Indigenous people.

Ms Oscar feared the impact of the rejection would be felt "far beyond the vote", relaying reports of Indigenous schoolchildren being targeted in the weeks since the poll.

"I have already heard reports of our children facing racism at school because of the outcome, that their peers have interpreted 'no' as a rejection of them," she told the hearing in Canberra.

"This is not acceptable, and so far from the truth … this referendum has made it abundantly clear we live in a time when it is becoming increasingly hard, if not impossible, to have reasonable and safe public discussions."

Ms Oscar, a Bunuba woman, likened misinformation and disinformation throughout the campaign to a "wildfire", stating the worst piece was the 'no' campaign's claims Indigenous people in regional and remote Australia did not support the voice.

"The vote has now proven unequivocally that we do. It is an important piece of truth-telling that should inform the agenda moving forward," she said.

"The nation has a clear mandate to establish regional and remote voices."

The commissioner said the lopsided vote highlighted the need for a Makarrata Commission to undergo a truth-telling process.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese committed to the Uluru Statement's call for a "voice, truth and treaty" after being elected in 2022, but has refused to re-state that commitment in the wake of the referendum defeat.

Ms Oscar said Makarrata was doubly important now.

"I need to stress the real and palpable pain that so many Australians are feeling … the referendum was intended to unite us, but instead through the months of campaigning, we have been caught in intense conflict," she said.

Alex Mitchell - AAP


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