“THERE’S A PATTERN throughout history you cannot ignore. We have established Voices since the 1920s all the way through to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission [in 1990]. But every time Indigenous people have set up a Voice to be able to come together—to have our debates and discussions in a proper and informed way, to reach a consensus and then go out there with coherency, with strength and unity to be able to achieve change—a government has come along and taken it away.”
Kaurareg man Thomas Mayo is standing before a crowd of people inside Sydney’s Cafe Freda’s, recalling a handful of historical precedents in which various Australian governments took it upon themselves to make decisions on behalf of Indigenous people. It’s four days until the October 14 referendum is due to take place, and the gravity of his words is not lost on anyone in the room. Today, the irreparable damage done by John Howard’s Northern Territory Intervention in 2007, and Tony Abbott’s decision to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from frontline community services in 2016, is abundantly clear. This Saturday, the Australian public have the opportunity to give First Nations people a Voice; the right to be consulted on policies that affect their communities so that past mistakes are not repeated.
“What Howard did [in 2007] was he announced to the entire country that issues in those communities were somehow and Aboriginal problem. Never mind the trauma from colonisation; never mind the failed policies and harmful laws; never mind the poverty and all of the things that are experienced in those communities,” continued Mayo, adding that for Indigenous men around the country, the flow-on effect of the intervention was that “people looked at us with suspicious eyes”. “It was [as] if our children needed protection from us because of our culture and our heritage,” he recalls.
Since the Uluru Statement from the Heart was announced in 2017, Mayo has dedicated his life to educating the Australian public on the Voice, and why enshrining it in the constitution means a more positive future for all Australians. Inside Cafe Freda’s, at the ‘Yes 23’ event hosted by Aussie fashion brands Double Rainbouu, House of Darwin and Jungles Jungles, and Darwin’s Laundry Gallery, the activist expressed his optimism—that by placing the decision in the hands of the diverse Australian public, not a small pool of politicians, the result this Saturday will be ‘Yes’.
“What we came to understand is that with the Uluru Statement, we needed to write it to the Australian people—not to a king or a queen or a parliament. If we’re going to call for a Voice, we’re not going to rely on the government to do it. We’re going to invite the Australian people to establish it through a referendum, in our constitution, so that it can last through the political cycles, so it can get momentum towards closing the gap,” he finished.
“That is how we’re going to see change.”
Across Australia, 7,000 polling places will be open tomorrow (Saturday October 14) from 8am to 6pm local time. Voting is compulsory. This is our chance to make history. Find your nearest polling booth here.