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Voice built on a pack of lies

Warren Mundine -

The Referendum on the Voice presents a critical choice for Australians about the constitution.

But it presents additional choices for Indigenous Australians. Do we want our traditional nations, our mobs, made into one homogenised group? Do we want to be segregated again as a race of people in the Constitution? Do we want traditional owner rights usurped? Do we want to cede the fundamental principle of our cultures that no one speaks for another person's country?

This month Dr Vicki Grieves Williams and I are publishing a series of articles about the Uluru Statement: both the 439 words on the canvass and the 26-page manifesto.

This manifesto is steeped in grievance and victimhood. History is misrepresented, written to make Australians feel shame. And culture is misappropriated, including in the use of the word "Uluru" against the wishes of its traditional owners. This is a sign of its broader agenda because the manifesto also stands against traditional owner autonomy over their own lands and seas; rooted in the idea of one homogenous pan-Indigenous people.

It calls for a Makarrata Commission, the second body demanded by the Uluru Statement, to be given all powers to settle one national treaty for all Indigenous people with all governments as well as to settle all the treaties for local groups and to take over native title. This is not our culture. In our cultures only countrymen and women can speak for country.

Traditional owners should be able to speak for themselves about how they want to live on their own countries, not told what to do or what to think by some centralised overlord, be it the Central Land Council or the Voice or a Makarrata Commission.

The Yes campaign is built on a pack of lies.

One lie is that Indigenous people don't currently have a voice and that we aren't listened to. It's the opposite. We have many voices. Hundreds of Indigenous organisations are immersed in law and policymaking. Nothing happens on Indigenous land without consultation with traditional owners through native title and land rights legislation. There are more Indigenous parliamentarians today than ever before, including the Minister for Indigenous Australians. And there's no door in Canberra that isn't wide open to Indigenous Australians who want to be heard.

Another lie is 80 per cent of Indigenous people want the Voice and it comes out of a grassroots Indigenous movement. Even ABC Fact Check said the 80 per cent claim doesn't stack up. Many Aboriginals have never heard of the Voice, especially those in remote and regional Australia who are most in need. Many Aboriginals are voting No. The Regional Dialogues, leading up to the Uluru Statement, were attended by a small number of Indigenous people, hand-picked to "ensure consensus".

Another lie is the Voice will change Indigenous lives for the better. The official Yes pamphlet makes the Voice sound like some magical wand that will solve all the problems if only we just let it.

Prime Minister Albanese said "If you vote No, you'll get more of the same." Actually, if you vote Yes you'll get more of the same; but it will be in the Constitution. The Voice will take the current approach, wrap it in more bureaucracy and entrench it in the Constitution, forever.

If the Voice's purpose is to end disadvantage, it shouldn't be in the Constitution. Because that's permanent. That says Indigenous Australians will always live in poverty, will always need help and are destined for permanent disadvantage.

The fact is most Indigenous Australians are doing fine. They go to school, go to work, run businesses, take care of their families and they aren't in prison. These Indigenous people don't need a special voice. And it's wrong to tell young people growing up in these Indigenous families that they're disadvantaged because of being Indigenous or that they're more likely to go to prison than to university. Because it's just not true.

We need to focus on those Indigenous Australians who are struggling, most of whom are living in remote communities or trapped in intergenerational welfare dependency, or both.

The biggest lie of all is that people like Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Senator Kerrynne Liddle and myself, Aboriginal Australians who oppose the Voice, have no plan or even don't want to improve Indigenous opportunity.

We've devoted most of our adult lives to advocating for and supporting Indigenous people in need, battling opposition, disinterest and vested interests. And we'll continue to.

But nothing will change without a focus on four critical areas.

Firstly, accountability. Governments have spent billions. Where's all the funding going? What's it being used for? What outcomes have all those community organisations and service providers who receive all this funding, actually achieved?

Secondly, education. There's no disparity for Indigenous Australians educated at the same level as other Australians. So, if you want a simple idea to close the gap, it's getting all Indigenous children to school. Just imagine if every Indigenous child went to school every day. Think about what a profound impact that would have. Sadly, I know from my own experience that many of those who have the power to achieve this one goal don't use it as they could.

Thirdly, economic participation. Growing up the way I did, I learned the only solution to poverty is economic participation. I saw this with my parents and grandparents who were determined to own their own home and ensure their kids got educated and into work. This made all the difference for us. I don't know any group of people in the world that has lifted out of poverty without economic participation.

If every Indigenous child went to school and every Indigenous adult went to work, there would be no gap.

Fourthly, social change. People need to stop turning a blind eye to the violence, abuse, coercive control and destructive behaviour that goes on in some Indigenous communities.

Accountability, education, economic participation, social change. These aren't complicated ideas but require political will to achieve.

I was born in the 1950s, in regional New South Wales. I grew up in poverty and lived under segregation for the first 13 years of my life, like all Aboriginals. Bureaucratic segregation regimes controlled every aspect of our lives.

These regimes were put in place in the 1800s by well-meaning people, who thought Aboriginals couldn't take care of themselves and were destined for permanent disadvantage. They were abolished after the 1967 Referendum, when racial segregation was removed from the Constitution.

The Voice will put racial segregation back into our Constitution. No other group of Australians would have a constitutionally entrenched body to speak on their behalf with a single voice. Only one race of people would be treated in this way.

We know from the Calma-Langton Report that the Voice is intended to be a vast, expensive new bureaucracy interposed at every level of government decision-making.

In 1967, we fought against segregation and to get bureaucrats off our backs. We don't want them to return.

The Voice is the first step in a political agenda to transform Indigenous Australians into one group, defined by race, and to usurp traditional owners. The Uluru Statement canvass is a glossy marketing brochure for the misappropriation of culture, a misrepresentation of history and for a radical and divisive vision of Australia. All done in the name of Indigenous Australians but working against us.

Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO DUniv (Hon. Causa) is Director, Indigenous Forum, Centre for Independent Studies.


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