Western Sydney Women say Yes to the Voice in Blacktown
On Tuesday afternoon, 5 September in Blacktown Library’s Max Webber Centre in Western Sydney, women from diverse local communities put questions on the Recognition and Voice referendum to a panel of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women community organisation leaders and legal experts.
Kittu Randhawa, who works in Indian Community service organisations and is an advocate for culturally and linguistically diverse women in Australia, facilitated the Forum.
Women’s Electoral Lobby and Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association organised and hosted the Forum in the heart of Darug Country.’ We wanted to take the Voice debate out of the Inner City and into the parts of Sydney where people want to understand the issue and make an informed decision’, said Jozefa Sobski from WEL and Sunila Kotwal from Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association.
Proud Darug woman Colleen Mitchell welcomed the Panel and audience to her Country.
Federal Member for Greenway and Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland warmly welcomed the Forum and urged a Yes Vote in the Referendum.
In response to questions about the whether the change proposed to the Constitution is necessary and what difference it could make, panellists replied that a Yes vote could:
- help make Aboriginal people’s health and other critical life outcomes more equal through Aboriginal partnership and control,
- help right the wrongs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s intentional exclusion from Australia’s 1901 Constitution; and
- slow and prevent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s evacuation from their lands, laws, social and kinship systems, families, justice systems, languages and culture.
Immigrant and Western Sydney women on the Panel and at the event also spoke about their family experiences of displacement, fleeing cultural oppression, violence and war to a safe Australia.
Panellists such as Anita Hanna and Facilitator Kittu Randhawa spoke of their discovery that Aboriginal people themselves had suffered violence and exclusion from their lands and cultures following British occupation and the establishment of Australia, with the 1901 Constitution intentionally silent on 60,000 years of Aboriginal civilisation.
Immigrant women panellists felt that a yes to constitutional recognition and the Voice would be a step to begin to make reparation for that violence and exclusion endured by Aboriginal people and could deepen their own gratitude to Australia.
Panellist and Bidjara/ Iman woman and legal expert, Ruby Langton-Batty gave a special reading of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Responding to a question ‘Why Not Put Treaty First?’, Ruby Langton- Batty and constitutional expert Professor Gabrielle Appleby from the UNSW, explained the Voice as a first step on the road to enshrining a permanent Aboriginal advisory body, with a Treaty as the next step outlined in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The road to a Federal Treaty would be long (possibly taking many years) and complex, with 250 language groups in negotiations and many other considerations. Victoria’s Treaty process is providing one model for other states and territories.
Some memorable quotes from the panellists
Darug woman Colleen Mitchell (responding to questions on why the Yes Vote is necessary and whether a Yes Vote would mean ‘Special’ treatment for Aboriginal people).
‘The Constitution is the Nation’s Birth Certificate but without Aboriginal people. Saying Yes to the Voice will mean Aboriginal people will at long last possess a Birth Certificate for Australia’.
‘Aboriginal people have invited Australia to recognise them in the Constitution and to include a constitutional voice. We are advocating a Yes vote just so we can reach the same levels in health, education, housing, employment, rates of imprisonment and well-being as other Australians’.
Professor Gabrielle Appleby
(Responding to a question about why the Voice is necessary).
‘Contrary to claims from the No campaign that the Voice will put race in the Constitution, Section 51 of the Constitution actually has a ‘Race power’ allowing the Federal Government to pass special laws with respect to races.
The ‘Race power’ has been used against Aboriginal people, for example in the 2007 Intervention where the Howard Government even suspended the Racial Discrimination Act. The Voice will balance this Race power by obliging the Government to listen to advice from Aboriginal people before using it, or suspending the Racial Discrimination Act.’
Ruby Langton- Batty
(In response to a question on what difference the Voice would make to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s inequality and disadvantage)
‘A recent example of how the Voice would make a profound difference in Aboriginal Health was the Aboriginal Medical Services’ advice to Government to enable Aboriginal control and direction of the Covid response in Aboriginal communities in remote and Northern Australia.
Hundreds –possibly thousands - of lives were saved and these communities were protected. Aboriginal advice that is ‘heard’ by Government, partnership and authority to control and deliver programs are at the heart of the Voice.’
( In response to the question on the difference the Voice could make to Aboriginal people’s disadvantage).
‘Governments listen to migrant and multi-cultural community organisations, both at the peak level and at the local level where many of us work in migrant services. In general governments trust our communities to control and run these services which make a real difference to people’s health, well-being and our cultures through support for Community Languages schools. Aboriginal people have asked for a Voice in the Constitution to ensure that Governments will listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people too.’
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