Information session offers clarity about Voice referendum

Aboriginal lawyers Gemma McKinnion and Peta MacGillivray (seated at front with local elder Elaine Ohlsen) presented an unbiased Voice Referendum Information and Q&A Session at the Cobar Services Club last Wednesday night to offer locals more information before they head to the referendum next week.

Local residents, like many other Australians, who have questions about the Voice referendum on October 14, were able to get them answered at an information session last Wednesday night at the Services Club.

At next week’s referendum voters will be asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a single question.

The question on the ballot paper will be: “A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?”

Last week’s Voice information session was led by Sydney-based Aboriginal lawyers Gemma McKinnion and Peta MacGillivray who explained how the referendum came about, how the constitution works and what changes a ‘yes’ vote would bring to the constitution.

“In Sydney there are lots of information sessions, lots of opportunities to learn more about the Voice, but not so much out here in the west,” Gemma said.

“We try to be factual, stick to the facts and provide background information.

“This session might be a starting point or it can add information to what you might already have,” Gemma said.

The event was attended by 23 local residents,  15 females and eight males, indigenous and non-indigenous residents, with the majority of the audience over 40 years of age.

Many said they attended as they were still undecided as to which way they would vote.

They had a range of questions including: How will the Voice make a practical difference? Why do we need to put the Voice in the constitution? Don’t Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already have lots of ‘voices’ to government and parliament? Why is there not much information about how the Voice body will be made up and what their functions and powers will be? Won’t this just be another cost for the Government and plug up the courts with litigation?

As a technical advisor at The Original Dialogue Uluru Statement from the Heart that was presented to National Constitutional Convention at Uluru in 2017, Gemma explained why there had been a call for a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution.

She explained the Statement represents diverse First Nations views from across Australia and was developed through a series of Regional Dialogues involving more than 1,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from across the country.

The Statement calls for a First Nations Voice to be permanently included in the Constitution and truth-telling about their history.

She also outlined how the Australian Constitution works and the Voice was called to be included in the referendum so that it would become law that could not be dissolved with a change of government. She also outlined the 10 guiding principals suggested for how the Voice would be made up.

“I think it’s really important that it’s First Nations and non First Nations people coming together to have these discussions because this is what it’s exactly about,” Gemma said.

“It’s the broader populations that are voting on this, but it’s about First Nations people so that engagement and talking as a community is really important.”

One local summed it up as: “Isn’t it about asking Aboriginal and Torres Strait people what they want instead of telling them?”