The Voice Referendum
Influence family friends and communities to vote Yes
What follows is an historical overview of bad faith, ignorance, failed policy, and lost opportunity that has preceded the upcoming Voice referendum. To fail First Nation people again is unthinkable, worse, it would be the cause of anguish and loss of respect from which, not simply First Nations people, but all Australians would struggle to recover trust. Having read this material, surely it would be morally impossible to do other than Vote Yes. If not now – when, if not us – who?
June 10 1838 28 women, old men, and children of the Gamilaraay nation were butchered, their bodies piled up and burnt, at Myall Creek, Bingara, NSW. It was not the first nor the last massacre of First Nations people. But it was the first and perhaps only massacre following which colonists were arrested, charged, and prosecuted. Seven were hung. However, popular public opinion favoured the stockmen murderers. In its editorial, the Sydney Morning Herald wrote: "The whole gang of black animals are not worth the money the colonists will have to pay for printing the silly documents on which we have already wasted too much time.” Also: ʹthe colony did not want “savages to exist". "We have far too many of the murderous wretches about us already.” The paper encouraged the shooting of Aboriginal people. It is shameful to have to admit that while not as extreme and violent, a racist attitude towards First Nations people remains within some spheres of the Australian psyche.
The journey forward, from this appalling inhumanity, to decency and shared humanity, was going to be long. Need it to have been so long and so strongly resisted? Is it still to be resisted?
In 1924 The Australian Aborigines Progress Association was founded in Sydney by Fred Maynard and Tom Lacey. It called for the right of Aboriginal people to determine their own lives, the restitution of land, an end to the practice of removing children from their families and the abolition of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board
In the 1930s, articulate First Nation activists began emerging from the missions and reserves of N.S.W. and Vic., among them: William Cooper, Bill Ferguson, Margaret Tucker, Doug Nicholls, Jack and Selina Patten, Tom Foster, Pearl Gibbs, Jack Kinchela and Helen Grosvenor.
1932 William Cooper, a Yorta Yorta, man circulated a petition across Australia calling upon the Government to improve living conditions for Aboriginal People, and to enact legislation that would guarantee Aboriginal people representation in parliament. The petition was sent to Joseph Lyons, P.M., in August 1937, with the hope that it would be forwarded to King George V1. The petition was signed by 1814 Aborigines. Joseph Lyons acknowledged the petition, however it appears not to have been forwarded onto King George. It was marked “no action to be taken”.
26 January 1938, Aboriginal men and women met at Australia Hall in Sydney and moved the following: “We, representing the Aborigines of Australia, assembled in conference at Australia Hall, Sydney, on the 26 of January, 1938, this being the 150 anniversary of whitemans seizure of our country, hereby make protest against the callous treatment of our people by the whiteman during the past 150 years, and we appeal to the Australian nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines, we ask for a new policy which will raise our people To Full Citizens Status and Equality within the Community”
This resolution of indignation, protest was moved and passed at 5 o’clock. A large blackboard displayed outside the hall proclaims “Day of Mourning”. The group that met on 26 January were members of Australian Aborigines League and the Aborigines Progressive Association. Both organisations became the driving force calling for a constitutional referendum that would take place in 1967.
31 January 1938, an Aboriginal deputation that included Jack Patten, William Furguson, and Pearl Gibbs, met with Prime Minister Joe Lyons, his wife Enid and the Minister for the Interior John “Black Jack” McEwen. They asked for Commonwealth control of all Aboriginal matters, a Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, an administration advised by Aboriginal representatives, full citizen status and civil equality with white Australians, including equality in education, labour laws, workers' compensation, pensions, land ownership and wages.
1 May 1946, 800 pastoral workers from 27 stations in W.A. walked off the job for better pay and conditions.
This strike became known as the “1946 Pilbara Strike”.
The strike lasted until 1949, paralysing the sheep industry
1953 nuclear tests began at Emu, S.A., moving to Maralinga S.A. in 1956. Maralinga, means “thunder”. This name was taken from the now extinct Top End Aboriginal language called Garik. The social, physical, mental and environmental impacts resulting from the testing and its fallout continue to have ongoing effects on the local Pitjantjatjara and Luritja Peoples today.
In 1957 a National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC) was formed, which continues to this day as NAIDOC.
1965 A group of students from the University of Sydney went on a 15-day bus journey “Freedom Ride” to draw attention to the appalling living conditions of NSW Aboriginal People, and their experience of overt racism. Rev. Ted Noffs of the Wayside Chapel assisted in co-ordinating the ride. Charles Perkins, a student at Sydney University at that time, was elected president of the group.
During the fifteen-day journey through regional NSW, the group directly challenged a ban against Aboriginal ex-servicemen at the Walgett RSL and local laws barring Aboriginal children from the Moree and Kempsey swimming pools. They also took up living condition issues in several other NSW towns. At the end of the journey a full report was written and presented to relevant authorities.
23 August 1966 saw the walk off from Lord Vestey’s property, Wave Hill
Protest events held prior to 1967, include The Warbuton Ranges Controversy 1957, the Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963, the Freedom Ride 1965 and the Wave Hill walk off which began in 1966.
The 1967 referendum put the following Question to the Australian people: Do you approve the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled, “An Act to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to people of the Aboriginal Race in any State and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in the reckoning the population.”
This amendment deleted part section 51 of the Constitution and repealed section 127. 90.77% of the Australian population voted “Yes” in the referendum.
1968-69 saw the introduction of equal wages for pastoral workers. September 1967, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission removed the racially discriminatory clause from the Federal Pastoral Industry Award and equal wages for Aboriginal pastoral workers were phased in from December 1968, in the Kimberly region.
In earlier decades, Aboriginal station workers were usually given no wages, but instead received food, clothing and tobacco rations in return for labour. When the equal wages decision was handed down, hundreds of Aboriginal people were forced to leave the stations, moving into towns or onto reserves.
September 1973 Whitlam Government announced the idea of a National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NACC). The NACC quickly asserted its political muscles during the Whitlam Government, clashing with DAA head, Barry Dexter and the minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Jim Cavanagh. DAA was established in 1973.
16 August 1975 Gough Whitlam transferred leasehold title of Wattie Creek (Daguragu), 90 square kilometres, to the Gurindji people which led to the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (N.T.) 1976
May 1977, Ian Viner, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in the Fraser Government, replaced the NACC with a new body, National Aboriginal Conference (NAC). The NAC members were selected by Indigenous People. April 1979 the NAC recommended a form of treaty between Aboriginal peoples and the Australian Government, using the word “Makarrata” to describe this. Makarrata is a Yolngu word for the restoration of good relations after conflict.
The NAC was eventually abolished by the Hawke Government in 1985.
In Geneva, Jim Hagan chair of the National Aboriginal Conference, addresses United Nations Human Rights Commission Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. (At this time there were protests against oil drilling on Aboriginal Land of Noonkanbah.)
Hagan’s speech, on 3 September 1980, was reported internationally: “The Noonkanbah community have sought justice, and have been given obstruction. We have sought peace and have been given violence. The Australian Government’s acquiescence in this continuing breach of human rights must be condemned in the eyes of the world”.
Hagan is the first elected Indigenous Australian to address a UN committee.
The Hawke Government’s ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) legislation was introduced into the parliament in August 1988. April 1989 John Howard strongly expressed opposition to the ATSIC proposal, stating that it would divide the Nation. In the six months following the introduction of the ATSIC Bill, over 90 amendments were made to the legislation, making the Bill the second most amended piece of legislation since Federation. ATSIC Act 1989 was passed in November 1989.
Section 3 of the ATSIC Act 1989 sets out the following objectives:
May 1982 a group of Meriam, led by Eddie Mabo from the Eastern Torres Strait, lodged a case with the High Court of Australia for legal ownership of the island of Mer. Over a period of 10 years Meriam people generated 4000 pages of transcript of evidence. The evidence presented included proof that eight clans of Mer (Murray Island) have occupied clearly defined territories on the island for hundreds of years, and proved continuity of customs on Mer.
3 June 1992, six of the seven judges agreed that the Meriam held traditional ownership of the land of Mer. The decision led to the passing of the Native Title Act 1993, providing the framework for all Australian Indigenous people to make claim of Native Title.
This decision altered the foundation of land law in Australia and rendered terra nullius a legal fiction.
Paul Keating gave his Redfern speech on 10 December 1992.
August 2007 Northern Territory Intervention (N.T. Emergency Response) was introduced following the “Little Children are Sacred Report”
The intervention was a $587 million package of legislation that made a number of changes affecting specified Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. It included restriction on alcohol, changes to welfare payments, acquisition of parcels of land, education (linking income support to school attendance), employment (the ceasing of CDEP) and health (compulsory checks for all children).
In doing so, several laws were affected or partially suspended: Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Aboriginal Land Rights (N.T.) Act 1976, Native Title Act 1993, N.T. Self-Government Act and related legislation, Social Security Act 1991, and Income Tax Assessment Act 1993.
Since the introduction of the intervention in 2007, many social problems facing communities have become worse, (as reported on NITV), namely:
2009 K. Rudd supported the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 3 of the declaration states that: “Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
K. Rudd PM, implemented the Basic Card, it later changed to the Cashless Debit Card
2016 the Cashless Debit Card, (CDC) was trialled in Ceduna, East Kimberly and Gold Fields in WA and the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region in QLD. The CDC has been operating in the Cape York region in QLD and across the NT since 2021
17 December 2020, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (continuation of cashless welfare) Act 2020, came into being. The Act supports the continuation of the Cashless Debit Card for a further two years.
2017 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations gathered at Uluru for a National Constitutional Convention to make “The Statement from the Heart”.
Referendum on The Voice will be held in 2023
The Uluru Statement from the heart identifies three objectives:
Voice to Parliament
The Voice to parliament would be advisory, it will have no powers to overrule parliament. First Nations communities will be able to bring matters relating to their social, spiritual, and economic wellbeing, via Local and Regional Voices, to the twenty-four-member National Voice which in turn would give advice to parliament. This would empower government to enact best case policies and laws for the flourishing of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Rather than igniting racism, it will hopefully remove remaining vestiges of disempowerment and inequality.