Voice to respect ‘my country’ rules

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The Voice will respect the tradition prohibiting people speaking for other people’s country, according to Thomas Mayo, one of the leading figures in the Yes campaign for the referendum this year.

He and fellow campaigner Kerry O’Brien, a former prominent ABC journalist, appeared on the weekend in two well attended sessions at the NT Writers Festival in Alice Springs where they launched their Voice to Parliament Handbook.

Mr Mayo says current Indigenous Members of Parliament are not adequate as representative of First Nations interests because they represent their electorates, not only First Nations, they may not be re-elected and they are obliged to do the bidding of the political parties that nominate them.

And despite the Voice campaigners’ reservations about the Parliamentary process they agree with all key decisions about the Voice – should the referendum ratify its inclusion in the Constitution – being made by the two Federal Houses, including questions of representation and consultation with the 881,600 Aboriginal people (ABS 2021) in Australia, 3.8% of the nation’s population.

Mr Mayo spoke with editor ERWIN CHLANDA who had also interviewed him in May 2018.

NEWS: “My country” is an expression likely to crop up in most conversations with Aboriginal people. The relationship to land is fundamental to the structure of their society. In the old days talking for someone else’s country could be punished by death.

MAYO: In the old days. It is no different to other nations in Europe, for example, where a citizen of a nation shared classified information, there would have been a form of capital punishment. Indigenous culture, law and lores were no more violent for the times than European culture and law. 

NEWS: How many pieces of land referred to by someone as “my country” are there – say – in a 500 kilometre radius from Alice Springs? There are three in Alice Springs alone.

MAYO: I don’t know how many there are in this area. I am not from here.

NEWS: How will the Aboriginal people making up the Voice in Canberra, 24 or 46 of them, as has been suggested, avoid talking about someone else’s country without authority?

MAYO: The Voice won’t speak for people’s country. Only those traditional owners can speak for their country. But there are issues that are across all our communities. Matters of housing, for example, how programs are funded, how efficient they are, infrastructure, the justice system as well. They Voice would take up those things that are common. Local issues and how things are done on country are still up to that community and to that nation, that traditional owner group.

NEWS: There are many examples of Indigenous people broadly ignoring the voices to Parliament they have now. For example in Gwoja, a predominantly Indigenous seat in the NT, which has an Indigenous Member, only half the people turn up to vote. Three of the four current Territory Federal members are black.

MAYO: Indigenous Members of Parliament represent their electorates and their political party, which are always mostly non-Indigenous. The Voice will be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders chosen by their communities, who can be held to account for what they say on our behalf by our communities and will be informed by our communities. It also guarantees that there will be a voice even if no Indigenous Members of Parliament are elected.

NEWS: Past representative bodies have a poor record. That does not encourage us to have faith in the Voice.

MAYO: It’s a flawed argument to say that Indigenous people cannot have a representative body that’s going to be successful. You could point to representatives that have failed, whether they are Indigenous of non-Indigenous organisations. All organisations will have problems from time to time. We’ve never had the opportunity … to evolve and improve and to learn from mistakes and have a voice that gets stronger and more effective and gets better outcomes. Every time in the past they have been defunded, or been repealed, basically silenced.    

NEWS: In the past when something didn’t work we had the opportunity of shutting it down. With the Voice in the Constitution we’d be stuck with it forever, whether it works or not.

MAYO: Why would we not make it the norm that people who have decisions made for them all the time, with the race power in the Constitution? It should be a guaranteed thing. It should be a permanent part of our democracy because Indigenous peoples are distinctive peoples. We are recognised as that more and more in our society. We are not going away, we’ve been here for 60,000 years. It’s not only about addressing problems. It’s also about Indigenous knowledge informing the decisions Parliament makes.

Mr Mayo refers to Section 51/26 in the Constitution, regulating 39 legislative powers of the Parliament, which says in part: The Parliament shall … have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to … the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.

MAYO: The Parliament has control over how the Voice model works. There is a flexibility for it to always improve.

NEWS: How many Indigenous people were consulted in the formulation of the Voice proposal?

MAYO: If the question is about all Indigenous people, all clans, all moieties who were consulted in the development of the Voice, well that would take a massive amount of resources. We are spread across this vast continent. The normal way of doing things is to do it in a formulated way where you ensure that all the different perspectives and experiences are represented. The whole point of what we’re doing here is establishing the means for our people to be heard in the first place.

NEWS: And then you get the Parliament consisting mostly of whitefellas deciding how you should be heard.

MAYO: We’ll have a structured, informed, regulated ability to reach consent, representatives whom we choose, not a political party, and hold them to account through democratic processes.

NEWS: How many Aboriginal people are having a say directly in the formulation of the Voice?

MAYO: That’s to come. The referendum is not about the model. It is about establishing the guarantee, the principle that Aboriginal people should have a Voice on matters that relate to them. 

AT TOP (from left): Moderator Josie Douglas, Mr Mayo and Mr O’Brien.

 

UPDATE June 8:

A meeting of the Northern and Central Land Councils has passed a resolution with overwhelming support endorsing a call to all Australians to support a Voice to Parliament, according to a media statement.

“It is expected a declaration will be signed by more than 200 representatives of the four Northern Territory Aboriginal land councils at a gathering this week on the traditional lands of the Bagala (Jawoyn) group at Barunga, south-west of Katherine,” says the statement.

“Together, the land council members speak with the authority as the elected representatives of tens of thousands of grass roots residents of remote communities, town camps and towns across the Territory.

“The text of a declaration will be released after it has been formally presented to the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Linda Burney MP, following the Minister’s address to the gathering tomorrow morning.”

UPDATE June 9:

The four Northern Territory Aboriginal land councils today signed the Barunga Voice Declaration that addresses all Australians and urges them to support a “Voice to the Parliament and executive government, never to be rendered silent with the stroke of a pen again,” according to a media release.

More than 200 representatives of the Northern, Central, Tiwi and Anindilyakwa land council are gathered on the traditional lands of the Bagala (Jawoyn) group at Barunga, south-east of Katherine.

Land council members signed the declaration and a copy was presented to the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney.

It invites all Australians to “right the wrongs of the past and deal with the serious issues impacting First Nations peoples … and unite our country”.

The release says: “Together, the land council members speak with the authority as the elected representatives of tens of thousands of grass roots residents of remote communities, town camps and towns across the Territory.”

14 COMMENTS

  1. The Australian Constitution is not the place to enshrine all the differences of race and culture to create many diverse nations out of the various people that now occupy it. All have evolved from others over thousands of generations from all over this planet, not just Australia.
    The Constitution is to unify us, its people, into one nation, otherwise there will be complete chaos into the foreseeable future for everyone of us.
    The Australian Constitution is designed to unite NOT to divide, so creating one nation called Australia, uniting many cultures and races under one rule. So get with it!

  2. This debate, and I use the word loosely, is far from conclusive. Republicans who agitate for a Yes vote to enshrine the Voice in the Constitution have traditionally eschewed the founding document as Royalist, but now see it as a useful opportunity.
    The problem with a Republic is that proponents have not worked out how its President would be nominated, either by politicians or a democratic election process and similar issues occur with the proposed Voice design.
    Whilst I have sympathies for Aboriginal friends who have endured racism and an ugly Colonial history, I don’t believe that further division will bring the goodwill which has always been there.
    The Referendum has been poorly handled and seems to be a blind to capture those whose sympathies reach as far as ticking a box. It needs work, not a pirate’s parrot.

  3. Russell, seriously, no one interested in the Republic issue can, or has “eschewed” (meaning deliberately avoid) the constitution.
    It is a fact of our lives, and would need to be changed.
    And yes, it is an Act of the British Parliament, and recognises the Monarch of Britain as our head of state.
    Personally I would like to see it torn up and start again, getting rid of the States in the process, but given our current political environment that is not going to happen anytime soon.
    But we can, and should, try to change it for the better, even if only incrementally.
    Voting “Yes” to recognise our First Nations people is a step forward.

  4. Thanks, Charlie. The question to be put is two-fold. One is recognition and the other is enshrinement in the Constitution rather than a legislated body (the last being ATSIC).
    Taking “a step forward” without reference to these two questions is a tad ingenuous.
    There are others, primarily the PM’s insistence on leaving the detail as to who and how officers are elected until after the Referendum.
    Seriously, doesn’t that stick in your democratic craw?

  5. Could someone explain how the Voice will work to unify when in this country: Eight States / Territories have different laws and by-laws?
    We have to be realistic and see that not all Australians are equal as their rights depend of the region they live in.
    Australia is a federation of states which each have their own constitution, government and laws. Equality in Australia will exist when States and Territories are abolished.

  6. Russell, you seem to be following the “if you don’t know, vote no” trope.
    May I suggest an alternative: “If you don’t know, find out.”
    This is a good start.
    You also seem to be unfamiliar with the Constitution.
    Many of the items in it simply establish the existence and principle of the item, and leave it to the Parliament for the rest. See below for an example.
    The “Voice” wording follows this well established format.
    There is no reason for it to “stick in my democratic craw”.
    Australian Constitution
    Chapter III—The Judicature
    71. Judicial power and Courts:
    The judicial power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Supreme Court, to be called the High Court of Australia, and in such other federal courts as the Parliament creates, and in such other courts as it invests with federal jurisdiction. The High Court shall consist of a Chief Justice, and so many other Justices, not less than two, as the Parliament prescribes.
    72. Judges’ appointment:
    The Justices of the High Court and of the other courts created by the Parliament:
    (i) shall be appointed by the Governor-General in Council. In other words, by the Parliament.

  7. Charlie, do the noted comments by Mayo and O’Brien, that the Voice is “expected to be listened to” and the Voices decisions expected to be implemented not cloud the claim by the Yes campaign that it has no authority or veto power?
    If the Voice is not listened to, or a recommendation implemented, what do you think may happen?

  8. Well, you’ve Baffled me mate.
    Being listened to does not mean “authority” or “veto”.
    And that’s not cloudy.
    What do I think would happen?
    Depends on the Parliament, and the advice.
    Albo may say “yes we hear you but budgetary constraints etc…”
    Just as he does with advice from ACOSS about raising the dole or similar.
    Dutton might say “No”.
    The only real authority would be “moral authority”, that is “do the right thing”.
    As the Bard says: “Blessed be he who expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.”

  9. Sorry Baffled.
    I got a bit sidetracked and didn’t actually answer the last bit.
    I expect that the Voice would present their advice again, as ACOSS does.
    Every eminent Constitutional expert in the country agrees that it would NOT lead to legal proceedings.

  10. And you don’t have to take my word for it.
    The Australian Solicitor-General, Dr Stephen Donaghue KC, has provided the government with independent legal advice stating that the proposed Voice would operate “only as an advisory body” and “clearly has no power of veto”.

  11. “With the Voice in the Constitution, we’d be stuck with it forever.”
    No, we wouldn’t. If it didn’t work as intended, we’d simply have another referendum to remove it.

  12. @ Phil. Are you kidding? And how much taxpayer funding would this one cost at the hands of a government who can’t give us the detail until after the vote.
    At best, you acknowledge the issue of Constitutional enshrinement. That’s the elephant in the room.
    Mick Gooda and even Noel Pearson have conceded that the Referendum needs more work.
    The morality of a Yes group proposing to expose the No group as “racist” only adds to the desperation in a cohort that assumes more than it reasons.

  13. What happens if advice to Parliament is offered and rejected by the government of the day as being not in the best interests of the nation as a whole.
    Will the Voice Yes group then withdraw its support with the possibility of Government falling or a double dissolution as is currently raised as a possibility because of the actions of the Greens re housing? Is the tail wagging the dog which nourishes it?
    If I thought that a Yes vote would help the recipients of housing and infrastructure in the communities outside Canberra take more responsibility and ownership for building and maintaining their own facilities instead of relying on government to do it for them at minimal or any individual cost to the inhabitants I would vote yes.
    As an example I see little or no evidence that the people affected by floods in the Top End were out there trying to improve their own lot after the event, as the rest of us would be expected to do. Just hand it all to Government is the attitude and not respect the facilities provided in their distress.
    I have been through a situation in another part of the world, where a rural population with no regular income or social security as we have here, where the local people wanted a secondary school and Government could not help, so they did it themselves.
    I have vision somewhere of the men hand mixing 20 tonnes of concrete for the septic system because it was in their own interests to do so.
    That small school produced several prominent people.
    Some of these kids walked several kilometres just to get to school so they then built a dormitory. No government help, thank you.
    I can’t see that attitude ever working here. In fact just the opposite and a don’t think a Yes vote will change that.
    Governments’ job, not ours is the prevailing attitude.

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