Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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HomeVolume 28Voice campaigner cut her teeth in the Alice

Voice campaigner cut her teeth in the Alice


On the day the Prime Minister has announced the date of the referendum, in Alice Springs it’s fitting to consider the thoughts of Professor Marcia Langton who honed her incisive activism in part when she lived in this town during the late seventies.

Her inaugural NAIDOC Week keynote lecture at the University of Queensland on July 7 is a snapshot of her views as a leading Yes campaigner and a shaper of the Uluru Statement.

Prof Langton (pictured), associate provost, University of Melbourne, was preaching to the converted. They required little encouragement from MC Lisa Jackson Pulver, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sydney, to embrace Prof Langton like a cult figure.

UQ Vice Chancellor Mark Scott provided balance by encouraging the audience, in his thank-you speech, to “welcome the debate, welcome the divergent voices, seek out the truth through all the rhetoric and all the noise and come to a place where we make an informed gracious response to the gracious overtures that’s been made to us”.

Prof Langton focussed on the injustices and brutalities Aboriginal people suffered at the hands of the invaders, suggesting they are continuing to the present day, perpetuating an “existential risk”.

We need to “end colonial exclusion of Indigenous people from the fabric of the nation”.

She said the Constitution formulated by whites can “cause us detriment” and relegates Indigenous people to being “ghostly figures”.

She mentions three Sections, urging people to read them. 

• Section 51 (xxvi) was amended by the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) 1967, and previously referred to making special laws for “people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.

Post the 1967 referendum it now reads “the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.

• Section 25:  “If by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted.”

This is considered to no longer have any significant legal effect, as the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) would prevent the States from discriminating against people on grounds of race. Nevertheless, section 25 ‘recognises that people might constitutionally be denied the franchise on the ground of race’.

• Section 127: “In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.” This was removed in 1967.

Prof Langton in her speech provides no analysis of the massive financial effort in the recent past to assist Indigenous people, the benefits of native title and land rights, especially in the Northern Territory, half of whose landmass is now Aboriginal freehold owned.

Prof Langton does not, in this speech, look at commercial opportunities – except in an oblique way.

She quotes US President Lyndon Johnson’s concept of “racism of low expectations”.

Yet she offers no answer to the “loss of languages, ceremonies, rules of approaching places, closing the gap reports,” including the one commissioned by former PM Julia Gillard.

Prof Langton calls for “enterprises in communities”.

She gives “health, housing, education and lowering the incarceration rates” the standard mention, but without exploring self-help opportunities.


  1. Erwin, The headline only bears a very tangential relevance to the article.
    Marcia cut her teeth in FCAATSI, in the 70s. I’m not sure when she came to Alice, but she was my boss at CLC in the late 80s.
    She is talking about the referendum, not specific policies.
    As has been pointed out many times before, the half of the NT that is Aboriginal land is the half that us whitefellas didn’t want.
    No apparent commercial value. Why do you imagine that Aboriginal people should be able to magic up “commercial opportunities”?
    Indigenous protected areas, with Aboriginal rangers, seem to be the most productive use, with employment, cultural maintenance, and conservation of endangered species.
    As for “self help”: The Howard / Brough Intervention destroyed every vestige of Aboriginal self help and self determination in the NT.
    Administration by fiat from Canberra.
    Us whitefellas know best.
    Including bringing in the Army.
    Senior Aboriginal people in Central Australia have described the recent unrest as the outcome of the Intervention.
    Case in point: Prior to the Intervention communities had the right, the ability, and the structures in place to make their own decisions about grog.
    The Intervention obliterated all that.
    Just a blanket prohibition.
    And we know how well that has worked in the past.
    When the Intervention finished in July last year there was nothing in place to cope with it. A grog explosion was inevitable, and predictable.
    The “massive financial effort” you mention is a bit misleading.
    Research indicates that if health spending is aligned to levels of illness in the community, spending on Aboriginal health in Central Australia is below the average.
    And the important message is, that what we are doing at the moment isn’t working.
    And again, the research indicates that when people are given a say in addressing their problems, the outcomes are better.

  2. You write (referring to Section 25 of the Constitution): “This is considered to no longer have any significant legal effect, as the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) would prevent the States from discriminating against people on grounds of race.”
    One should consider this a poor protection as it’s the same Racial Discrimination Act that was simply suspended in order to implement the very racist and recent Intervention.

  3. What is racism?
    Our High Court has clearly upheld that some Australian legal decisions must comply with various International Agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nation’s adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December, 1948 particularly the points ratified by Australia.
    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains superior to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly on 13 September, 2007.
    We remain more human than racially different.
    Download the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” available in many languages.
    Extract from the 1948 proclamation and adoption by the United Nations General Assembly, of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” Article 02: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
    Extract pintupi-luritja
    Translation: Australian National University. L. Macdonald, S.J Dixon, S. Holcombe and K. Hansen
    For those who understand pintupi-luritja:
    Yara Tina Ngaatjanya Yananguku Tjukarurrulpayi Liipula NyinanytjakuMingarrtjuwiya
    Naampa 2
    Wangka piipa ngaangka ngaranyi yuwankarrangku kulira palulawana nyinanytjaku. Kutjupa tjutaku wiya mingarrtju nyinanytjaku. Ngurra pana kutjupa ngurraraku wiya mingarrtju nyinanytjaku. Kungkaku watiku wiya mingarrtju nyinanytjaku. Wangka kutjupa wangkapayiku wiya mingarrtju nyinanytjaku. Katutjanya walkulpayi tjutaku tjinguru walkuntja kutjupatjutaku wiya mingarrtju nyinanytjaku. Kapamanta ngurraraku, kapamanta kutjupa kutjupaku, kapamanta pana kutjupa yurungka parrariku wiya mingarrtju nyinanytjaku. Wangka ngaangku nganananya tjakultjunanyi rapa ngaranytjaku kutjupa tjuta nguwanpa.

  4. The UN regards the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly on 13 September, 2007, as needing to comply with the 1948 declaration of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the superior legislation.
    Is my belief our High Court will regard it similarly to the UN.

  5. @ Charlie Carter, you wrote: “And the important message is, that what we are doing at the moment isn’t working.
    And again, the research indicates that when people are given a say in addressing their problems, the outcomes are better.” I think everyone will agree with this.
    But my questions are as follow after I studied the information booklet.
    1. If the referendum passes, there will be a process with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the broader public to design the Voice. Does it mean that the Voice has not be designed yet?
    2. Introduce Voice establishment legislation to Parliament:mA bill will then be developed to establish the Voice. This would be introduced to Parliament and may be referred to a parliamentary committee to suggest ways to improve it. Parliament decides if it becomes law. Once again nothing is really defined?
    3. Implementation: Once Parliament approves the legislation to establish the Voice, the legislation comes into effect and the work to set up the Voice begins. How many months or years before this is done?
    4. The Voice would be subject to standard governance and reporting requirements to ensure transparency and accountability. To whom the Voice will answer?
    5.The Voice would have its own resources to allow it to research, develop and make representations. How will the Voice be financed?

  6. Thank you Charlie, but I am not a newcomer in politics and I do research before asking questions.
    Voice.gov.au is the prime example of politicians talks and does not answer my questions.
    With great respect, do you have an opinion on the subject and could you explain better than giving me to read what I can do by myself?
    Quotes from voice.gov.au:
    1. If the referendum passes, there would be a process with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the Parliament and the broader public to settle the Voice design. How the broader public will be selected?
    2. Legislation to establish the Voice would then go through standard parliamentary processes to ensure adequate scrutiny by elected representatives in both houses of Parliament. What means adequate scrutiny?
    3. This would ensure the Voice can evolve and adapt as circumstances change, while upholding the authority of Parliament to legislate the Voice.
    The last sentence is even more of a concern to me.
    Are we asked to decide yes or no on a project not even defined?
    There is a way to ask questions accordingly with the answer you seek.
    It is similar to the referendum for the republic 1999.
    “To alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.”
    But no one could explain the election of the President or how the candidates would be selected hence a lot of willing republicans, like myself, refused to said yes to the unknown.
    Will the proposed Voice suffer the same outcome?

  7. @ Charlie Carter: “The research indicates that when people are given a say in addressing their problems, the outcomes are better.”
    But what does this really mean?
    Take the poor health outcomes: Aboriginal ill health is overwhelmingly caused by lifestyle choices, poor diets, sedentary lives, smoking and a high consumption of alcohol, squalid living conditions even in good housing etc.
    None of these underlying factors can be resolved by government.
    Health education has been prominent and well funded for at least two decades without effect.
    It seems that poor health is actually more collateral damage to a chosen lifestyle and not a major concern for remote Aboriginal residents.
    Is the high rate of incarceration really seen as a problem by Aboriginal people or is it just accepted as part of being Aboriginal?
    So is the Voice just a mechanism for Aboriginal people to have a say about the problems white Australia sees in their society rather than their problems?
    What do you think?

  8. Evelyne: So it seems that you are asking questions to which you already know the answers.
    Or asking for definitions of phrases that have an accepted and widely understood meaning, like “adequate scrutiny” and “broader public”.
    To what purpose?
    It would seem to be to sow confusion.
    The reference to the Republic referendum is even more puzzling.
    You quote the question which very clearly defines that the President would be
    “appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament”.
    And then you say: “But no one could explain the election of the President.”
    I don’t understand. Perhaps Maya Cifali could translate it for you.

  9. Susan, I will ignore your unsubstantiated allegations about “lifestyle choices” except to add a few that you might consider: Dispossession, slaughter, flogging, chaining, removing children, and very recently removing human rights (the Intervention).
    I will answer your question.
    “So is the Voice just a mechanism for Aboriginal people to have a say about the problems white Australia sees in their society rather than their problems?”
    The answer is clearly NO.
    The Voice is a specific request from the most comprehensive consultation ever held with Aboriginal people from across Australia, leading to 250 delegates at the Uluru convention.

  10. @ Charlie, Evelyne and Susan: Nice to see people having a serious thought about this referendum, rather than simply accepting the platitudes, propaganda, slogans and lies of the campaigns.
    To sheet this down to “lifetime choices” however is in my opinion simplistic and a classic case of blaming the victims. As I see it Aborigines aren’t given much choice. The residents of Oombulgurri certainly weren’t given a choice when they were evicted and their community bulldozed.
    You might recall that the WA Government initiative to close down communities was supported by Prime Minister Abbott on the basis that the Federal Government was not prepared to fund “lifestyle choices”.
    A Voice at least offers a glimmer of hope of addressing what the Uluru Statement refers to as “This is the torment of our powerlessness”.
    A line in Lucky Dube’s song ‘Victims’ comes to mind: “They are the victims of the situation.”
    You never know, a YES vote may improve the situation.

  11. @ Frank Baarda: Thank you!
    @ Charlie Carter: Thank you for bringing a smile on my face by you advice. Maya is a good old friend; my French and my English are as good as hers but my Italian and Arabic are not as good as hers.(=)

  12. @ Frank and Charlie: Here are some true stories:
    Despite the urging of doctors and nurses, and his lived experience of many relatives passing away, a man with end stage kidney disease was rushed to hospital where he eventually died. He ignored the bookings he had for dialysis.
    Did he have a choice?
    A woman has diabetes but ignored the repeated pleas of health staff to accept treatment. The uncontrolled high blood glucose damaged every organ in her body and she ended up in a wheelchair in the Old Timers where she currently resides.
    Did she have a choice?
    A young man avoided a jail sentence through a diversionary program on his community requiring only a token effort on his part. He was given vast encouragement but refused to engage with the program, offended again and was given another diversion. Again he refused to engage and reoffended. He was jailed.
    Was there an alternative to jail for this man and could he have chosen it?
    Teachers are begging children to attend school on remote communities. Most schools now offer incentives for attendance (a new bike for Xmas for attending more than 60% of the year is one example). But attendance is very poor and many kids choose not to go to school at all.
    Do the kids and their parents have a genuine choice?
    Is the choice in these examples removed by historical dispossession, slaughter, flogging etc?
    If it is, why are outcomes for people who came to settlements in the 1960s and suffered none of these horrors equally as bad as the others?
    Aboriginal people make choices in the way they live their lives, just as we all do.
    You could have 10 doctors and 20 nurses on every community and health outcomes would be very similar until different choices are made.
    To succeed, the Voice needs to be a lot more than giving Aboriginal people a stronger say in what government should do to close the gap.

  13. Evelyne, I respectfully suggest that Maya’s written English may be a little more precise than yours.
    Susan, I think Frank has answered you. The “poor choices” are at least in part outcomes of the situation, rather than the causes.
    And if I had end stage kidney disease I may make the choice not to spend my last days hooked up to a machine. Particularly if it meant being in an alien environment away from family and friends.
    I am unsure of the meaning of your last sentence.
    Do you mean “succeed” for the referendum?
    Or “succeed” closing the gap.
    Again, I think Frank has answered.
    “Glimmer of hope” and “may improve”.
    Also, the Uluru statement said: “We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.”
    The referendum is a direct response to that request.


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