‘This vote means something’: Indigenous Australians react to final Voice wording

Indigenous Australians have reacted to the unveiling of details of the Voice to parliament’s powers and the final wording of the proposed constitutional amendment with a mixture of trepidation and excitement.

One felt the Voice had been weakened, others thought Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s speech had made things clearer, while many had faith the legal changes to the proposal were appropriate.

The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and WA Today undertook a national project alongside First Nations Media Australia late last year to hear the views of First Nations people from across the country on the Voice.

The respondents at the time overwhelmingly said they would vote Yes in a referendum on the Indigenous Voice proposal. This masthead went back to some of those surveyed to hear their thoughts on the finalised wording and Albanese’s emotional call for Australians to support it.

Paul Callaghan, 62, a Worimi man who lives in Old Bar on the NSW mid-north coast, said he thought the wording of both the question and clauses felt “watered down” to what was originally proposed.

He said it might have the opposite effect and turn people away from voting Yes. “They might go, ‘Why bother?’”

Worimi man Paul Callaghan fears the Voice has been watered down.Credit:Janie Barrett

Callaghan said that since the early days of the proposal, he’d had little hope the government would make serious change through the Voice.

This fear has only been further confirmed by the wording, he said.

“I can’t say my heart is broken because my heart wasn’t in it to begin with,” he said. “I think we will just have to wait 50 years until young people with the right equity and ethical basis take up leadership roles and make serious change.”

Peter Hood, a Kurnai man from Gippsland in eastern Victoria, said he saw the reworded proposed Voice amendment as a necessary step for legal clarity.

Kurnai man Peter Hood believes the amendment adds clarity.Credit:Justin McManus

“At the end of the day, the message is still the same,” he said.

Hood said he was pleased to see the prime minister’s genuine emotion and investment in the Voice, although he would like to know more about how Voice members would be selected or elected.

“Being a Victorian Aboriginal man, I want to make sure someone from Victoria is there and someone I know that I’m going to have contact with to voice anything that we want raised at this committee,” he said.

Hood said he believed the Voice referendum would succeed.

“If you look behind the scenes a bit more, I think there is a lot of support for it – both from Aboriginal Australia and non-Aboriginal Australia,” he said.

Cheryl Thomas, a Noongar-Ballardong and Wongutha woman from Midland in Western Austraia, said she’d only briefly heard news of the prime minister’s announcement on the radio.

She said she hadn’t had time to digest the ramifications of the reworded question, but she was excited.

“We’ve got a referendum this year and it’s now mid-late March. Stuff is moving, so it is exciting,” she said on Friday. “It’s big for all the Aboriginal people who have come before and it’s big for all the people who will come after.”

Dja Dja Wurrung man Rodney Carter urged people to support the Voice referendum.Credit:Justin McManus

Rodney Carter, a Dja Dja Wurrung man from central Victoria and Dja Dja Wurrung Group CEO, said Albanese’s announcement was pleasing, and he had faith the changes to the proposed constitutional amendment were appropriate.

“Look it’s up to people probably smarter than me about constitutional law to know what it all really means, but you put confidence in those people,” he said.

Carter was unsure whether the referendum would succeed, but urged people to support the proposal that would not “take away anything from anyone and will actually add value.”

Daniel Morrison, a Noongar Yamatji Gija man and CEO of Wungening Aboriginal Corporation in WA, praised Albanese’s speech and said the revised wording made the Voice’s boundaries clear.

“To see the care and passion the prime minister spoke with in his press conference … about unity, and walking alongside our mob in genuine partnership, inspires a great amount of hope,” he said.

“This vote means something, not only to me and my family … but to all of us across the country.

“The wording makes clear the boundaries that are in play. I hope that people see those words for what they are: a simple request to be heard and to have a say about decisions that are often made about us, without us.”

Michael Raymond, an Iwaidja, Maung and Torres Strait Islander man based in Darwin, said he hadn’t heard much about the Voice when this masthead first spoke to him months ago.

“Originally before [today], I only had fear and speculation, considering there was no information about it, until today’s statement more or less removed a lot of that fear and doubt,” he said on Thursday.

“It made things a lot clearer.”

Raymond said he didn’t know about the specific changes to the proposed constitutional amendment, but now understood the Voice would have no veto power, which he liked.

However, like his father before him, he refuses to vote to avoid politics. He says he isn’t likely to vote on the Voice referendum.

“I, personally, hope it does not divide Australians,” he said.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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