Stop this country being comfortable with our pain. Why I’m voting yes.

31 Aug 2023

Arrernte man, father, and the founder and managing director of Kings Narrative, Tyson Mpetyane Carmody, writes of the journey to the Voice to Parliament, and why he will be voting Yes in the upcoming referendum.

The Voice to Parliament: Why I'm voting yes

This piece was originally published in Kings Narrative

It has been announced Australia will go to a Referendum on October 14, to vote Yes or No on whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should have a Voice to Parliament. 

Please bear with me as I try to articulate the stories that have shaped how and why I will cast my vote. 

Whichever way you choose to vote, this is a momentous occasion for this young country Australia. Imagine 60,000 years of continuous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is converted in 60 minutes on a clock. 1 minute equals 1000 years.

British colonisation first scarred our shores 235 years ago in 1788. 235 years equates to somewhere just under 15 seconds. 15 seconds (any mathematically gifted people out there please feel free to work out and share the exact amount of time 235 years equates to). 15 seconds of calculated murder, rape, dispossession, theft and trauma. 

So much damage and pain, yet so much strength and wisdom born from 60,000 years of sophisticated systems of culture and lore. Within that 60,000 years of culture, lore, wisdom and experience you will, if you look and listen properly, find a voice. But in that 235 years of damage and pain, we have yet to find a collective audience who will listen to understand. You Listening to respond is not the same as  listening to understand. 

I have recently reflected on these two questions:

Do we have a voice? 

Yes. For years we’ve been writing reports with explicit recommendations, we’ve been protesting and disrupting traffic, we’ve been taking a stance on the footy field, on the netball court. We’ve been fighting for our country back, for our kids to come home and we’ve been screaming in agonising pain for help as we lay dying on the cold floor of a jail cell

Do we have an audience who will listen to understand? 

I’m not so certain. 

For many of you who have followed the journey of Kings Narrative to date, you may be aware that we purposely do not seek, want or need government funding to deliver essential programs. 

We seek creative and courageous investment but those “audiences” seem to fade away when we change the language from funding to investment.  Those of you who know me personally, know I really struggle trying to listen to what feels like the scripted stories from politicians and I am not interested at all in engaging with politics of any kind. 

While Kings Narrative is relatively new, my stance on politicians, politics and government audiences is not. I have worked in many different government, private, for profit, not-for-profit structures for 20 years and from these experiences, have formed the view that government funding has well and truly failed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

So you can imagine why at Kings Narrative, there is a reluctance to have a voice to parliament to inform the very government agencies or political parties who have consistently disregarded our voices. To be honest, during our journey at Kings Narrative, we have found a much more reliable and respectful audience in corporate Australia. People who are experts in their fields knowing they know nothing about Aboriginal people. People who have the resources to invest without the conditions. People who are willing to listen to understand. 

It’s time to make Australia uncomfortable 

For too long Australia has been too comfortable with firstly perpetrating against and witnessing the despair of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Whenever we speak our truth, you get uncomfortable. Truth telling is hard and uncomfortable to listen to. But how are we to grow if we stay comfortable? 

This is why we need to vote Yes for our voice at the referendum. We need our voice there making everyone uncomfortable. 

We can’t afford to spend energy into worrying about how our truth makes you feel. Personally, I never used to worry about  this, and I wouldn’t say I do now. Rather I am growing uncomfortably into this political activism of truth telling because for so long I was comfortable with letting shit slide for the sake of keeping the peace, for fear of looking like a whinging blackfella using the “race card”. 

Kings Narrative now, is growing uncomfortably and slowly but surely, we are becoming more and more comfortable with people being upset from our political activism in truth telling. Yes, the man who struggles listening to politicians or who won’t get involved with games of politics is becoming political. The fact that I am breathing is political activism, because I am trying to be something my kids have never seen before. You can’t be what you can’t see and that is why organisations like Kings Narrative need to be seen. We need to be political.

The journey will not be easy 

We know the implementation or actioning of the voice will likely be problematic to begin with, I listened to a great explanation by Mililma May from Uprising of the People, who was originally opposed to the voice but now is in favour. 

Mililma May, a Kulumbirigin Danggalaba Tiwi woman articulated that valid sentiments of reservations, doubts or criticisms of how or who should action the voice are not reasons to vote no, instead our criticisms are important reasons to vote yes, because “it’s a yes with an Asterisk”. 

Vote yes then use that criticism to implement alternatives to peak bodies or councils running things. Kings Narrative will be voting yes, but we will be critical of the implementation to ensure our voices are heard locally, collectively and uncomfortably. 

We encourage our families, our community and Australia to vote yes, but  to also bring your criticisms with it. So that eventually when this voice does work, it works properly. It is time now non-Indigenous Australia for you to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

You don’t know everything; you don’t have all the expertise. But on this occasion the reality is you will have the majority say in what direction this referendum goes. This won’t impact your lives in any way, however there are significant implications for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A vote for no will tell us unequivocally that you are comfortable to continue witnessing the despair of our people. 

A vote for yes says you want to be a part of change. 

Kele mwerre

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