An opinion piece published in The Australian, September 2, 2023
In his column last weekend titled “Busting eight myths of the No campaign”, Chris Kenny suggested it was a “simple interest in the truth” that got him entangled in Indigenous issues 30 years ago when he had a hand in exposing the fabricated Hindmarsh Island “secret women’s business”.
But in my case the driving force to expose many truths – in the hope we could do better and save lives – has been a lifetime of experience as an Aboriginal Australian navigating Indigenous issues and politics.
Chris knows well the personal price I and my mother, Bess Nungurrayi Price, have paid as Aboriginal women who have doggedly pursued the truth to expose the heartbreaking reality of circumstances surrounding domestic and family violence in Indigenous communities.
We have done so with the real threat of violence, not only over our heads but over the heads of the vulnerable whose stories we shared to allow their voices to be heard. Chris has spoken about it and written about it for many years now.
Out of longstanding respect for him, and my friendship with him, I have refrained from responding to much of Chris’s recent voice commentary. But my concern for our most vulnerable Australians and the potential destruction of our nation and our democracy compels me to now speak up.
When he framed the efforts of the No campaign, of which I am a leading figure, as nothing more than “fearmongering” and “scare campaigning”, he has effectively set back the years of campaigning on behalf of the true voiceless I have fought for.
This portrayal encourages the people who have personally attacked me for calling out the truth all of these years; the very people who have done nothing to improve the lot for our vulnerable – despite having had the power and influence to do so, if they chose.
These are the same people who diligently and duplicitously constructed a narrative ingraining the racial stereotypes that Aboriginal Australians are different, homogenous and perpetual victims in need of someone else to empower us. Keeping us separate, victimised and aggrieved is nothing more than dividing and conquering. An entire industry has thrived off this narrative of separatism and a handful of people have benefited handsomely as a result.
Yes, we are divided personally and now the Yes campaign Chris supports wants to permanently divide our nation within our Constitution. Informing the public of such detrimental impacts is not fearmongering; it is holding grave concern, not blindly – or worse still, willingly – ignoring the blatant failures of the voice proposal.
The aggrieved pursue a transfer of power within the Constitution and the evidence is stark.
Geoffrey Blainey put it perfectly in his piece “Before voice vote, let’s get the facts in order” (1-2/7) when he suggested the Uluru Statement from the Heart was a vulnerable document: “It is sometimes silent when Aboriginal failures are visible, but vocal in condemning Australian people for misdeeds that never happened.”
I would go further to suggest it is completely mute when Aboriginal failures are visible. This statement is key to why “the gap” is maintained.
When Henry Ergas suggests, as he did in his recent column “Why the Indigenous voice is no answer to closing the gap” (11/8), that “groups that capture the benefits of misguided government expenditure but bear none of its fiscal costs will demand ever higher levels of public spending”, you can bet your last dollar that this, too, will apply to the voice. Further, Ergas points out, “there is not a single record of any of the voice’s three predecessors pressing for lower spending, supporting desperately needed reforms”.
As opposition Indigenous Australians spokeswoman, I, along with my colleague senator Kerrynne Liddle, argue for such reform right now, beginning with an inquiry into statutory authorities, government agencies and organisations federally funded to alleviate disadvantage. And yet the Albanese government and its Land Council voice supporters deny such a need – labelling our call as nothing more than a political stunt.
Instead of creating a brand-new bloated, detail-less, bureaucracy to sit over the top of all others and be permanently etched into our Constitution, we should do what has actually never been done and fix the structures that exist.
Applying accountability to bloated bureaucracies while they accept responsibility for failure is what in fact has not yet been done.
Here are some cold, hard facts for Yes campaign proponents and supporters.
The gap does not exist between Indigenous Australians and the rest of Australia. It exists between our most marginalised Indigenous Australians and everyone else, including the growing and comfortable Aboriginal middle class that the voice proponents belong to.
Some of these people live very comfortably off six-figure salaries and maintain large property portfolios. Yet the premise of the voice suggests we are all inherently disadvantaged because of our racial heritage – a racial stereotype the Yes campaigners rely on to exploit the goodwill of Australians.
The Yes campaign cannot with any explicit clarity demonstrate how the voice will better the lives of marginalised Aboriginal Australians, or even the voice’s functions. Chris is wrong to describe the role of the proposed voice as merely providing advice.
As former supporter of the voice, constitutional lawyer and legal affairs editor of this newspaper Chris Merritt pointed out recently during a voice forum at Dee Why in Sydney, the word advice does not appear in the proposed new chapter of the Constitution. Instead, the role of the voice would be to make “representations”.
The difference is significant. Describing the voice as an advisory group understates its significance and gives the misleading impression it would be a benign sounding board for ideas.
That the voice will produce representations, not advice, suggests its role would be more like a lobby group that acts only in the interests of its clients – not the interests of the government, the parliament or even the nation.
Kenny might be swift to dismiss the enthusiastic intentions for the voice that extreme left proponents such as Thomas Mayo and Teela Reid have publicly expressed, but for Aboriginal people like myself these are blatant red flags.
Their priorities are not the same priorities as my own or the priorities of opposition child protection and prevention of family violence spokeswoman Liddle. Their priorities are not the same as the priorities of the most vulnerable in regional and remote communities and neither is their experience. Their priorities are those of privileged, radicalised, urban activists and include the weaponisation of the voice to punish democratically elected parliamentarians such as myself and the enforcement of “rent payment” by the 97 per cent of Australians they believe have benefited from the colonisation of their land.
These activists want to establish “Makarrata”. As published in an ABC article: “Makarrata literally means a spear penetrating, usually the thigh, of a person that has done wrong … so that they cannot hunt anymore, that they cannot walk properly, that they cannot run properly; to maim them, to settle them down, to calm them.” I can only imagine the target for applying Makaratta to be the 97 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians who have aggrieved the activists.
As a survivor of domestic violence and someone who advocates for the prevention of family violence, I am acutely aware of human behaviours as indicators of red flags. Manipulation, gaslighting, name calling, guilt tripping, failing to take responsibility and withholding information are all red flags that are relevant to power and control.
I have witnessed such tactics being used by powerful self-appointed leaders in remote communities to maintain power over the vulnerable. So far, a barrage of red flags are coming at Australians from the Yes campaign, and the reason is simple: the proposal does not stand on its own merits and has no detail.
You only have to read the Yes campaign’s “Persuasive Yes Conversations” scripts when it deals with the No.1 common objection being lack of detail. Instead of providing detail, the direction given is to “redirect” with “Should Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a meaningful say in the laws that affect them?”. In other words, withhold information and use guilt to manipulate the questioner.
Chris Kenny and fellow leading Yes campaigner Greg Craven must understand: this is personal. Changing our Constitution is an exercise I, and the No campaign, take very seriously.
And to Craven’s dig last weekend in his article titled, “Moderate chief justice Stephen Gageler to preside over interpretation of a successful voice amendment”: No, I am not a constitutional lawyer. But in turn, he is not an Aboriginal woman subjected to the failings of the multi-billion-dollar Aboriginal industry. Who has lived, and lives, among the violent and desperate fallout from those failings.
I will not be cowed by those who seek to racially separate this country, nor will I stand for any other Australian citizen being treated with contempt for standing up for our country and our most vulnerable.
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