Voicing dissent, working for justice
Local Aboriginal elder Aunty Norma Ingram has described the government’s decision not to proceed with the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament as “a punch in the guts”.
The Voice to Parliament was one of the key requests of the Statement from the Heart issued by a national convention of Indigenous leaders at Uluru in May.
Aunty Norma said that the statements by Prime Minister Turnbull and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion that the change would not be accepted at a referendum were a message to the Indigenous community that they did not have the support of the Australian public. “How do you think that makes us feel as an Aboriginal nation, when you say [that] everything we believe in, everything we’re saying, the rest of Australia does not believe in?”
She said that, while she was deeply disappointed by the decision, she wasn’t surprised.
“We are never in a position of power … This has proved it. That it doesn’t matter what you do, the government can come in and wipe it with a pen,” said Aunty Norma, who was a delegate to the Uluru Convention and co-convenor of the Sydney regional dialogue, which preceded the national meeting.
The other major recommendation from the Uluru dialogue was the formation of a Makarrata commission to oversee a treaty and “truth-telling” process.
While the government has not declared its stance on this proposal, Aunty Norma said she views it as having been rejected too: “The word Makarrata is a Northern Territory word that says ‘coming together after a fight’. Well, we can’t even come together. Because he [Turnbull] just says no.”
Prime Minister Turnbull has promised to set up a parliamentary committee to propose alternative ideas for recognition. However, Aunty Norma believes that further attempts to consult with the Indigenous community would not be met with the same enthusiasm.
“I certainly wouldn’t trust government again, and I don’t think the other people would – not that we totally trusted them anyway,” she said. “We just continuously put the efforts in, and continuously get knocked back. I mean, how many times do you get knocked back where it doesn’t affect you psychologically? And your spirit – it knocks your spirit down.”
Nevertheless, Aunty Norma will not be giving up on the campaign for a treaty. “You keep on going … we have generations to come that deserve our input and deserve us to keep on fighting, in whatever way we can,” she said.