Voice referendum: Aboriginal groups speak up amid concerns about week of silence

Article by Paul Garvey for The Australian

Noongar human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade. Picture: Tony McDonough

A leading Indigenous human rights lawyer has rejected calls for a week of silence in the wake of the voice referendum, declaring now was the time to discuss a path to improve the lives of some of Australia’s most impoverished communities.

As many Indigenous Australians grappled with the disappointment of Saturday’s result, some called for seven days of silence while others directed their anger towards the campaigning against the voice by independent senator Lidia Thorpe and the so-called “Progressive No” movement.

Noongar human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade, an associate professor and member of the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, told The Australian that the call for a week of silence was “ridiculous”.

“They shouldn’t be telling other people how to behave. That’s part of the problem of Aboriginal affairs,” she said. “They can have silence if they want, but this is the time to talk about everything, I would have thought.”

She urged the federal government to redouble its efforts around closing the gap in the wake of the referendum result, particularly on issues around Indigenous incarceration, suicide and child protection. “It can’t end here,” she said.

“The Prime Minister and (Indigenous Australians Minister Linda) Burney should call a roundtable meeting urgently with Indigenous leaders, particularly those who have supported this campaign, to make sure that we don’t slip further behind.”

The National Native Title Council, the peak body representing Native Title groups across Australia, also broke the silence to call for First Nations communities to come together in the wake of the “shameful” result.

“We will have to explain this outcome to our young people, they will then have to go to school knowing the majority of Australians have turned their back on them. For our elders, this rejection is an affront to decades of tireless work to advance our rights,” NNTC chief executive Jamie Lowe said.

“This week, we must hold our young people and elders close, and sit with our families and communities to move through this shameful moment in Australian history together.”

The group’s chairman, Kado Muir, called on Australians to recommit to reconciliation.

“Despite the outcome of the referendum, First Nations peoples, our sovereign nations and rights persist. These rights are determined by our birth, inheritance and belonging to this country,” he said. “These rights are who we are, and they cannot be taken away by a vote.”

SNAICC, an Indigenous group focused on care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, said that while it respected the groups and individuals who had chosen to “go dark” this week, it had decided not to remain silent and instead issued a statement calling for people to be aware of the potential impact of the referendum result on children.

“It’s now time for some truth-telling,” the group said. “This means looking at who we were as a country, the impacts of that on who we are, but most importantly how we go forward to be the country we want to be. A place that values and has pride in being home to the oldest living culture on the planet.”

The referendum result has also refocused attention on the role played by the Progressive No camp, headed by Senator Thorpe, who opposed the voice on the grounds it didn’t go far enough and risked ceding Indigenous sovereignty – with Thorpe eventually quitting the Greens earlier this year after falling out with the party over her opposition to the voice.

Yes23 campaigner James Blackwell, a Wiradyuri man who resigned from the Greens earlier this year in response to what he said was bullying within the party’s First Nations Network, broke his post-referendum silence to take aim at the Progressive No group.

He said those activists should not escape criticism in the wake of the referendum defeat.

Meanwhile, results from polling centres in Indigenous communities have pointed to strong support for the voice from First Nations people.

The polling data has hurt claims from voice opponents that the proposal did not have majority Indigenous support.

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