Indigenous activists say: Voice won’t bring change

Solidarity spoke with Marianne Mackay, a Nyoongar woman from WA who travelled to Canberra in June to join with Lidia Thorpe and other Aboriginal people opposed to a Voice to Parliament, and Wayne Wharton, a Kooma man and longtime Indigenous activist organising with the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy, who is travelling around the country to campaign against the Voice.

Marianne Mackay

I work as an advocate for my people, with Megan Krakouer at the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project. I’m active in my community advising on different projects, setting up events, I’m also a mother of seven and grandmother of one and doing a law degree full-time.

We get phone calls from people in crisis, it doesn’t matter what the issue is, we try to help.

Australia has the world’s highest incarceration rates, the world’s highest suicide rates, forced child removal rates and I see the impacts of this on a daily basis.

We have so many homeless people, sleeping in overcrowded situations, tents, cars or with nowhere to stay. The prisons are in constant crisis, juveniles through to adults locked down for 23 hours, only let out for exercise and phone calls.

There are deaths in custody and also deaths after people coming out of custody, young people who leave Banksia and suicide after being traumatised in there, or by other government systems like child protection, and just give up.

This Voice to Parliament is not going to change any of this. It’s just a powerless advisory body. We already have Aboriginal bodies that give advice to government, we have the coalition of peak Aboriginal bodies, health and legal bodies. We already have constitutional recognition and a state-based body here in WA but not once did Premier McGowan even meet with them.

There are conferences and conventions on the national level that put all kinds of proposals to government but they just refuse to listen. They don’t care, that’s what it comes down to. It doesn’t suit their agenda, it doesn’t fit with party policy. The same will happen with the Voice, they’ll take whatever advice and then turn it around and impose what they think is best.

Those pushing the Voice say that it will have power because it’s in the constitution, but that’s just not how the constitution works.

If the Voice amendment has been designed so we can’t run any High Court challenges, what’s the point of it being in the constitution? We wouldn’t get any justice from the High Court anyway, not in time for the urgent needs of our people dying every day.


We need action now—but we are getting nothing from government, just talk about the Voice. All this time and resources wasted on the Voice when we need a huge investment in resources to Aboriginal people on the ground to manage our own affairs and meet the needs of own people.

Take child protection—they spend three quarters of their budget just on removal of children and keeping them away from families, when we need a huge injection of funds for family support where it can make a difference.

They are ignoring the fact that our sovereignty has never been ceded. We still have tribal boundary law, we can’t speak for different nations other than our own.

I’ve seen a model for the Voice that just include two reps from WA. This isn’t coming from a cultural viewpoint, its an imposed westernised structure.

The Voice will be set up by the colonial government on their terms. The government that was created to repress, silence and deny our people our ancestral rights. The door is open for them to hand pick representatives already in their pocket and then say we get to vote for them. And in the referendum it won’t be up to our people about whether we want this Voice—we are only 3 per cent of the population.

Linda Burney is already trying to dictate what the Voice will be able to talk about.

We’ve been told it won’t comment on military bases, but like uncle Michael Anderson said in Canberra, military bases invade tribal lands and water ways. If we can’t even talk about that what’s the use of having a Voice? They’re saying it won’t even impact on Invasion Day, it’s just ridiculous.

This society is set up to allow people to inflict pain, suffering and torture on our people and our voices are silenced every day by a government that says they are trying to protect us and make things better.

But I say to you, this government does nothing for our people.

We don’t get nothing for free, we have to protest for change in this country and we protest against the Voice.

Wayne Wharton

What are some of your concerns about the Voice? Do you see it more as denying you a voice rather than giving you a voice?

One of the aims of the Constitutional working group was to deliver ways of manufacturing our consent.

The Voice is actually about denying freedoms and recognition that the High Court gave us under Mabo, but have been taken away from us since then.

None of the advisory bodies that have been set up over the years have recognised our representative structures. So when we talk about representative structures, it’s got to reflect our law from the grassroots.

We don’t want self-appointed representatives.

Co-Chair of the Uluru Dialogue, Professor Megan Davis spoke at her last address to the National Press Gallery, bragging, she was laughing about it—how one of their strategies was to ban people [like me] from the process.

That spells out the deception, manipulation and prejudice that has been part of the process.

And Noel Pearson was the one that went along with watering down and butchering native title. He was Howard’s right hand man for reconciliation.

Since the 70s there has been a push from the Commonwealth about forcing people to assimilate. There’s always has been an underlying wish of the colony to have us assimilate.

And what you see here is a whole lot of conservative blacks that have already decided that they’ve already decided to assimilate. They’ve already got positions and the salaries and the superannuation that warrants them to be Australians.

But many of us still hold fast to the belief that we were born free; although the place is under occupation, we are born free.

They haven’t spelled out how this version, the Voice, would run. And, what they’re promoting is that they will be the middlemen. Their Voice will be empowered to make decisions and advise over the top of us.

A lot of places are talking about a Voice, like South Australia. Each state in the Commonwealth has their own constitution. But once again they’re bullshit. They’re legislative.

The next government that comes along can amend and change any Voice.

Where has real change come from?

Any change we have won has come from the groundswell of people and individuals that have a vision.

We need campaigns that will actually scrutinise the police, scrutinise the powers that be and make them answerable.

Today a lot more young people are much more articulate. People fed up with the system. Have a look at the Black Lives Matter protests here and around the world, Indigenous people want real change.

They say the Voice is a way to welfare reform, but there are issues at a local, state as well as at a Federal Commonwealth level.

What do you mean by Treaty ?

Hawke promised a treaty way back [in 1988].

I still hold fast to the idea of a treaty. This thing was supposed to be Voice, Treaty, Truth, yep? But in the referendum question, where is the reference to a treaty or any reference to truth telling or a truth commission?

If it’s not in the question, it’s not talked about.

The war against First Nations people has to stop, before any peace process can begin, before any treaty. The war has to stop. A treaty is signed between two equal sovereigns. You don’t put one under another’s constitution. You can’t have one subordinate.

The biggest global colonial power at the moment is the US. They’ve got 3000 foot soldiers posted at Darwin, and are expanding an Air Force base.

Australia is now doing the biggest deal with them with AUKUS and is buying nuclear submarines. Where are they going to put the waste dump? They will try and put it in Aboriginal land it like they’ve done every other time.

So if we get the Voice. I don’t have to talk about nuclear waste dumps? Yeah, right.

They are spending $368 billion on nuclear submarines. What say the amount of money that they spend on submarines was spent on Aboriginal affairs? And we had control of it. Every Aboriginal family could have a house. Our kids wouldn’t have to steal cars. Every Aboriginal community could have their own water.

If they stopped the war and made reparations, housing and water are just some of the fundamental things that could be done.

Self-determination is the first step in liberation.

The message to the 16, 18 million voters is “Don’t throw us under the bus”. A lot of our kids are rebelling and acting angry. They’re at war with a racist system.

I’d like to deal with mining companies. But BHP, Santos and every other major mining company are financially supporting The Voice.

We want people to think about what the Voice will actually do. We want people to hear what we’re saying. We want liberators. We don’t need gatekeepers.


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