The clout of the Voice



Promotors of the Voice like to emphasise its benign nature: “We just want to be listened to. We have no veto rights.”

A more robust approach has emerged at last week’s writers festival in Alice Springs:


That’s the voice of Kerry O’Brien*, the former top ABC journalist and presenter, now teaming up as a Yes advocate with Thomas Mayo, who has devoted his past six years to tour the nation with the canvas that became know as the Statement from the Heart.

Mr Mayo made it clear that the Voice not only expected to be heard, but that advice given would be carried out by the Parliament and the Executive. If the advice is ignored “we would organise, our Voice in itself would say that they have done the wrong thing. It’s the political way of the Voice that will ensure that what it says will eventually be implemented”.

Both appeared on each day of the festival attracting a gathering of several hundred people at the Olive Pink Reserve, first to launch their handbook about the Voice – more accurately a handbook about why people should vote Yes in the referendum later this year – and then in a panel discussion about media.

Asked whether he liked the media Mr Mayo said: “In a word, no” but later focussed his dislike on the Murdoch media, to the evident majority approval from the audience.

There was a good dose of humour, in the panel on the handbook, under moderation by Josie Douglas, herself a Yes advocate, however.

There was some tough talk, with impunity, as there weren’t any No persons in evidence. The way was clear for preaching to the converted, a common event in this divided town.

“If the mischief makers were to get out of the way [we would be] able to engage in a real debate” said Mr O’Brien. He got his way but the absence of No persons hardly made for a real debate.

It has since been revealed that the “No” side has overtaken the “Yes” side, 53% to 49% (Sydney Morning Herald).

Ms Douglas invited the panel to comment on a statement by noted local activist Pat Anderson: “The national conversation has deteriorated into violence and tribalism, rather than a sophisticated and mature debate we had hoped for.”

Mr O’Brien answered**:


The panel of two focussed on the horrendous events early in Australia’s invasion from the north, suggesting it’s continuing to the present day with successive governments breaking promises, initiatives “dismissed and ignored” while First Nations “all of them silenced, all of them ignored” and being “so marginalised, for so long, which it is in regional and remote communities”.

Had a No faction been present, at this point it may have drawn attention to the recent decades when Aborigines acquired half the Northern Territory’s landmass as their freehold property; that every square millimetre of it is prime land for solar power generation, making the million-odd square kilometres an immense, world standard asset; that this puts the lid on the assertion that under landrights just marginal country in production terms has been handed back.

The current Federal Budget is averaging $4.2 billion per year over the forward estimates for Aboriginal people on top of what the general population is getting, including the Aboriginal people. Similar additional annual spending has been occurring for half a century. 

Mr O’Brien looked back at the Royal Commission on Deaths in Custody and its 338 recommendations, most of which “have never seen the light of day” and which was designed to “lead to better policy outcomes, that would lead to closing the gap, that might lead, once and for all, to seeing justice done and injustice rolled back right through our justice system around Australia, with all the incarceration”.

Incarceration was a recurring theme for the duo, including in Mr Mayo’s rendition of the Uluru Statement, delivered sermon-like with focus on belief.


This comes as a major enquiry is getting under way into heinous domestic violence crimes, and the town’s tourism is on its knees because of youth crime, rampant over decades but simply continuing and temporarily of interest to national media.

Neither Mr Mayo nor Mr O’Brien offered any analysis of the justice or law enforcement reasons for the record incarceration of Indigenous people.

PHOTO AT TOP, video below: Dot Circle and Frame: The Making of Papunya Tula Art by John Kean, a richly illustrated book tracking the beginnings and the innovation of the Papunya Tula art movement, was launched at the festival.

It is a celebration of Kaapa Tjampitjinpa, Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Johnny Warangula Tjupurrula were central to the formulation of a radical new form of desert art.

Arrernte and Anmatyerr traditional dancers gave a sunset performance to mark the occasion.



* When we resoundingly vote Yes around Australia for this referendum we together,  indigenous and non-indigenous, will be delivering a moral and political authority to the Voice that will become harder and harder for governments to ignore.

** It’s a reflection of past attempts to divide the community for political gain, and I’m not saying that this is the matter for all those involved. It is part of the modus of the political voices that are being raised in Opposition. I remember back to the Howard years, which were years in many ways of deep division, it was the culture wars, so called, the history walls, so called, the black armband of history, so called, all these attempts to retard and deny the true story of this country. With all the richness that came before white people, and with all the sadness and tragedy, and massacres, and the deep injustices and the dispossession, and the death from disease and all the rest of it, and yet to hear politicians talk about how the referendum will re-racialise Australia … this referendum has the great capacity to get Australians together in a way we have never been together before. The re-racialising, if it happens, is coming from those who have expressed that view. It’s an invitation to the uglies of the social media, the hidden racists of this country, to come out and express their hatred, incite those divisions.



  1. One wonders about O’Brien’s previous commitment and involvement in Aboriginal issues. Perhaps he is another follower of “The Vibe”.

  2. I have worked with several of the Voice senior advisory group members. From their lofty perches, they have NO IDEA how to improve parenting skills, child development, school attendance, adult education, sustained employment, health and nutrition, family violence, abandonment of language, rejection of traditional values, and other “risk factors” that many down here now accept as normal.
    The two popular writers, O’Brien and Mayo, also show they have NO CLUE how to solve the problems of the people down here, who often have zero motivation to “Close the Gap”.
    Mayo wants to overrule Parliament with a “moral authority that governments can’t ignore,” by creating a new Indigenous rights movement for reparations, etc.
    That plan will just divert funding from the people who need it, and send it to the privileged.
    Once again.

  3. Im sorry but I believe the Aboriginals are represented in Parliament by elected MPs of whom there are several who are of that descent.
    Once you bring race into a referendum you are playing with fire as you cannot do that as it is racist. Not that anyone seems to care as already there are already Indigenious only places where no white people are allowed into (racist).
    So the Voice won’t fix anything and make them grab more money to waste than before. And its 100% NO from me. Waste of my time and money!

  4. Listened to the Senate debate on ABC News Radio last night until very early hours of this morning.
    Our two local reps did a great job and should be compulsory listening.
    As well Flinders Uni research released this week into Art in the North suggest that the European influence in the South MIGHT not have been the first and possibly we all might have finished in the same position as the West Papuans are now.

  5. Dear The Voice people:
    I love and respect you. You are Australian, as am I.
    Is it too much to ask for you to reciprocate?
    It is? Oh well, it’s a NO from me.


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