Yes or No – Australia is still guilty.

20 Jul 2023

When I imagine the world my old people, my ancestors, my nan and my pop were demanding for my own child, I know it was a world better than this one. A world that wasn’t just consultancy, but action.

With the recent pamphlets of the Yes and No campaign, regarding the Voice to Parliament Referendum, it is crucial to understand that whether you choose to vote Yes or No Australia is still guilty. 

The history, the pain, the violence does not create innocence – whether you vote yes or no. 

Until real power is provided to First Nations people, nothing changes. 

When I read the pamphlets, I could not help but feel let down. Let down because I guess a little part of me wanted to believe that the Yes Campaign would provide greater substance, that maybe the needs of our people would fundamentally be represented.  

Imagination is such a gift. A gift to allow us to look forward and really reflect on the world we want to build. When we look to the future, in particular a few months from now, Australia will have the opportunity to vote yes or no. But the reality is, the day after the referendum, Australia does not wake up innocent whether it’s Yes or No. When I reflect on the people who have come before me demanding more for the next generation, I truly believe it was more than just a voice. But it was real change and action. My nan was a slave subject to domestic services on her own country, my pop was a professional boxer, one of the best – Alby Roberts, who had to get permission to fight from town to town. We have always had to ask to be heard, and now right now – we are doing the same thing. A chance to be heard, or provide mere advisory that does not actually hold any substantial power. 

I don’t want words anymore… I don’t want to just be ‘heard’…  I want action. Real action. 

I wrote in my last piece, we have always had a voice, we just have not been listened to. 

Well Australia, are you really doing the listening? 

When I imagine the world my old people, my ancestors, my nan and my pop were demanding for my own child, I know it was a world better than this one. A world that wasn’t just consultancy, but action. Real action, that doesn’t see our children taken, our land crying, and our people dying in custody. As a survivor, my voice was stolen from me, and now suddenly there is discourse that an advisory group made up of a few First Nations people will represent the best policies for survivors like me. I don’t need my voice silently advising parliament, I need my local communities, aunties and families liberated. 

We have always had to ask, and this advisory that the ‘voice’ campaign is trying to change in the constitution, is that, asking to give advisory, but no actual power. 

Quite often I have many of my non-Indigenous sisters and brothers respectfully reaching out to me, about whether to vote yes or no. These discussions then move to the narrative of “I want to wake up on the right side of history” … “can you imagine if we wake up and it’s actually a no?”.  

Well, I am sadly here to give you a reality check. We wear the results of no every day, and whether this is a yes or no referendum outcome, we will continue to wear this, because every time a First Nations child is stolen, locked up, put in cages, abused, ripped from country or country ripped from us we are reminded of the mere reality that our existence does not matter. 

Words don’t change this, action does. 

The guilt is not just history, it’s right now. This is the reality, and until this changes white Australia will always be guilty and voting yes does not mean exemption from the guilt. This is about First Nations people and speaks to the problematic process of this being in the hands of non-Indigenous people to speak to our position and determine whether we are worthy of a voice to parliament or not. 

As a survivor of the Family policing system, my voice was silenced. I didn’t need words. I just needed to see better action. The voice to parliament doesn’t change the practice of the awful conduct committed against our lives.  

Action does, power does. 

History has its eyes on everyone.  

A yes vote does not change the abuse of the policing state targeting and harming our children and young people, the yes vote does not change the conduct of the department removing our children at disproportionate rates and subjecting them to the family policing system (also known as Out of Home Care). 

When I reflect on what this referendum is asking, I cannot help but feel sadness. Sadness for the mere fact we are asking for crumbs, in a world where we deserve it all. Deserve the power, and the real change.

I am a strong believer in treaty, where we demand equal playing fields of power, and we build on our relationships to do better. Whilst many people will argue state-based treaties are currently in the process, a federal treaty sets the real agenda, it tells the world that we exist, and our presence is still here. Some may say that voice is the pathway to treaty, but the reality is the voice campaign has been a distraction from the treaty movements. It took this long to get here right now, so imagine how long it will take towards treaty. 

I am not saying treaty does not come with limitations or room for debate either. 

A treaty for Australia would mean recognising the historic wrongs and provide an opportunity to truly reflect on the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.  Treaty is reached after a process of negotiation, which involves the parties coming together as equals to decide on legally binding responsibilities and duties. If Australia was serious about its duty to do right, on all moral, and actionable accounts, we would be having discussions on treaty and not a ‘voice’. 

It’s not just about a seat at the table, but it’s about giving us our own table. The full set and the dessert too. Extra sweet type of thing. By sweet I mean Justice, truth, power and change. 

In Richard Bells’ film, You Can Go Now, directed by the staunch Distinguished professor Larissa Behrendt, aunty Joyce Clague activists, Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl elder of the 1967 referendum powerfully stated, “if we knew the referendum was going to be so successful… we would have asked for more”.  Aunty Joyce was  influential in instigating the 1967 Constitutional referendum.

So, tell me now Australia? Those doing the deep listening and reflection, why are we allowing First Nations people to be granted crumbs?  Why are we not demanding more? 

The voice states it will allow us to advise on issues that affect our people, whilst this holds minimal strength, it does not hold genuine power. This is institutional advice, not institutional change. In fact, again with the advice provided we can still be told NO. I believe the yes campaign is falling because people are reflecting on if this is actually what First Nations people want. 

The genuine no campaign is genuine, it’s a no from a place of experience and truth telling, a place that says let’s be prepared for real change. A no from the people who have undertaken genuine informed discourse is not a racist no. In fact, it likely means you’ve done the work and realised we deserve more than crumbs. 

A no could also mean, coming back to the table to see what it is we actually want, to get it right. 

To re-imagine a better world, means to sometimes not just accept the crumbs. But be ready to plant seeds to grow for the better, learning from our history. Re-imaging a better world is love and justice together, it’s about real change. 

The very LEAST we deserve.

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