July 19, 2023
Are you thinking about your vote in the referendum? Watch the recording of this online webinar hosted by the Assembly on 16 August to hear from Indigenous leader Noel Pearson and constitutional lawyer Dr Shireen Morris about what a Voice to Parliament would mean for Australia.
In conversation wtih Uniting Church in Australia President Rev Sharon Hollis, hear about Mr Pearson's journey leading up to this referendum. Dr Shireen Morris shares how she became involved in advocating and supporting a constitutionally guaranteed Voice to Parliament for Indigenous people. They speak clearly and passionately about the opportunity to change our nation in a way that is both practical and powerfully symbolic.
In responding to the argument that the Voice will be divisive, Noel and Shireen said that in fact, the opposite was true. The Voice was an incredible and momentous opportunity to bring Australians together to further reconciliation between First and Second Peoples.
“We (Indigenous people) weren't recognised when the country was colonised and we weren't recognised when Australia came together with the Federation in 1901, and we remain unrecognised in our own country,” said Noel.
“How could that be right? And how could how could the exclusion of our people from the constitution of our own country be a good thing?”
“There's a division there. And we're trying to cure that division with this recognition.”
Shireen said, “Unfortunately Australians have been divided by race under the Constitution since 1901, and no one has suffered more under that than Indigenous people who were excluded and discriminated against because they were considered an inferior race and race-based discriminatory provisions are still in there.”
“The exclusion that I talk about, it's not just something theoretical on paper. It’s exclusion that flowed into real laws and policies that Indigenous people suffered under. I'm talking about laws denying Indigenous people to vote in some jurisdictions right up until the 60s, and actually, formal voting equality across the board wasn't achieved until something like 1993.”
“I'm talking about policies that denied them the payment of equal wages. Sometimes non-existent wages. You can have some rations instead. I'm talking about policies that removed children from families sometimes banned their languages from being spoken."
“So I think it's pretty rich of some opponents now to claim that this is dividing us by race. This is doing the opposite."
“This is correcting the race-based exclusion of the past by finally including the one group that was previously excluded, and finally guaranteeing that they will at least have a voice when Parliament makes laws and policies about them.”
In conclusion, Noel was asked what he hoped would be on people’s hearts and minds on referendum day.
“I hope they consider their grandchildren and I hope they consider my grandchildren and what kind of relationship they'll have together. What kind of Australia will they live in together? We've had too much strife in our history. Too much uncertainty, too much fear. Too much prejudice.
“We can do better. Australia can be better if we solve this."
“I believe prejudice and fear will diminish."
Learn more about the speakers
Founder of Cape York Partnership and Good to Great Schools Australia, Guugu Yimithirr
Noel Pearson comes from the Guugu Yimithirr community of Hope Vale.
For over 30 years, Mr Pearson has pursued key agendas to achieve land rights and socioeconomic development outcomes for Cape York. He co-founded the Cape York Land Council and negotiated with the Keating government to establish the Native Title Act 1993 after the High Court’s landmark Mabo decision rejected the fiction of terra nullius. After seeing socioeconomic problems that were not present in his childhood accumulate, Mr Pearson has focused on pioneering empowering and holistic approaches to welfare reform, and transforming educational outcomes for disadvantaged students.
He is the Founder of Cape York Partnership and Good to Great Schools Australia and has co-founded other organisations also dedicated to ameliorating entrenched disadvantage of ‘The Bottom Million’. Mr Pearson served as a member of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians and the Referendum Council. He is currently a member of the First Nations Referendum Working Group.
Dr Shireen Morris
Director, Radical Centre Reform Lab
Dr Shireen Morris is a constitutional lawyer, senior lecturer and director of the Radical Centre Reform Lab at Macquarie University Law School. She has spent the last 12 years working with Indigenous leaders like Noel Pearson and working with Cape York Institute, devising and advocating the concept of a constitutionally guaranteed Indigenous Voice. Since 2020, Shireen has been particularly focussed on building multicultural and multifaith support for the referendum.
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