How can we have a respectful debate about an issue that has so polarised public debate in Australia?
This was at the heart of a public panel on the referendum held at Southern Cross University last week, organised by Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples and chaired by Dr Leda Barnett.
The panel included Uncle Des Williams, member of the Southern Cross Elders Council and ex-ATSIC commissioner, Gnibi Associate Dean Education Dr Kelly Menzel and Dean of Gnibi Associate Professor Stuart Barlo, as well as the Chair of the University’s Academic Board Professor Andrew Rose and Macquarie University’s Associate Professor Alison Holland, who is writing a history of ATSIC.
Uncle Des Williams spoke of his extensive experience working with ATSIC and the importance of funding to set up grassroots and culturally appropriate programs for Aboriginal people, designed by Aboriginal people. The panel drew parallels between ATSIC as a precursor to the Voice and the importance of enshrining the Voice in the Constitution to give it a longevity beyond changes in government.
The panel also shared anecdotes about their personal experiences of the public debate around the Referendum and took a forensic look at the pamphlet describing the yes and no positions that was circulated to most Australian households by the Australian Electoral Commission.
The discussion ranged from the need for plain English explanations, the symbolism and consequences of a yes and no vote, misinformation and intellectual corruption and the complex range of opinions on the efficacy of the Voice from an Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal perspective.