A key figure in the development of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament, Professor Marcia Langton was guest speaker at a Sydney Ideas 'Voices on the Voice' event at the University of Sydney on 3 August. As a member of the working group advising the Australian Government on how the Voice could be implemented, Professor Langton spoke about what the referendum means both symbolically and practically.
If we have Constitutional recognition, we will have dignity.
“What it represents is profound. And I think this is where people get rattled," Professor Langton said.
Professor Langton spoke about the Voice representing a way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to "become engaged... offer advice on how to close the gap and ... make representations on matters that affect them.” She added the Voice symbolically represents “an ending to the colonial exclusion of Indigenous people from the fabric of the nation.”
According to Professor Langton, many in the media fundamentally misunderstand the referendum question, resulting in inaccurate reporting. She highlighted a hyper-focus on singling out Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘leaders’ to speak to the Voice.
“You see articles saying 'Where is their leader? They must have a leader?'… We have governance councils across the country ... so, we have many leaders."
Marcia went on to question why journalists are seeking opinions on the Voice from people in government. She says the Voice isn’t an invitation from government, it is “a genuine invitation from 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who were elected to go to the first and only Indigenous National Constitutional Convention at Uluru." During those dialogues, ideas were developed and refined into the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
"If we have Constitutional recognition, we will have dignity," says Professor Langton, who acknowledged there is an uphill battle to convey the message of the Voice. She urged audiences to not only vote yes, but to also advocate for the yes vote.
"If I have persuaded you and you have time to make a phone call, or have a Yes Together lunch with your friends, or join a local group, and hand out material in your local neighbourhood, please do so."
Professor Langton's hope from the referendum is a unified Australia where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are empowered in a practical way to give advice that closes the gap, ending their colonial exclusion.
“I want everybody to wake up after the referendum and feel proud to be Australian, and to know that we have taken that extra step. To draw the line in the sand with our colonial past, embedded in our constitution, and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples to have a say in our own futures by making representations through the Voice on laws and policies that affect us."
The event was the second in the Sydney Ideas ‘Voices on the Voice’ series, a collaboration led by the University's Indigenous Strategy and Services portfolio and National Centre for Cultural Competence. View the recording of the event.
Visit the Voice to Parliament page for more information and resources on the referendum.
“The Indigenous Voice to Parliament is one of the most important discussions taking place in Australia."