Monday 24th of June 2024

vote yes to stop the idiots like abbott....

The woman with the Yes pamphlets outside the MCG on Saturday was unwavering.

While the rest of us trundled into the ground in raincoats and under umbrellas, she stood alone in only a T-shirt and jeans, smiling in the breeze and the showers – entirely undaunted by the mass indifference to her and her message.


By Andrew Fraser


Ironic? The mass of the punters were St Kilda fans, using the William Barak Bridge. That is, members of the club of Nicky Winmar, of that immortal image from 1993, being supported by a structure named for the “King of the Yarra”, the Aboriginal artist and activist who marched on Parliament in the late 1800s, protesting oppression and mistreatment from the colonial government.

Why was no-one listening? You’d hope it was because everyone knows this referendum is a no-brainer for “Yes” but I fear, and both the published polls and some very good people I know, suggest otherwise.

Among those very good people are mates of long standing, who have confided they are considering voting “No”. I understand, because I could have still been minded that way, too, but for chance good guidance in earlier times.

As a 13-year-old in the mid-1970s, I spent three weeks on a big cattle station in Never Never country, east of Katherine, where my cousin was the accountant.

I didn’t realise it for what it was at the time, but racism was the order of the day. The black stockmen were relied on by day but kept separate at night (when every stockman signed (or marked) for his two cans of Fourex from the canteen). The “jokes” were abundant, just normal behaviour, and ridicule, if not outright cruelty, was the MO, even for the one indigenous man who could write his name, and did so beautifully, in the shape of a boomerang, when he got a new shirt or boots from the store.

I didn’t do anything about it. Sure, I was a bit little and a bit scared of that different place outright but it’s shocking, looking back, that it didn’t even cross my mind at the time that something should have been said and done.

That some of my mates are still seemingly scared of a Voice to Parliament shouldn’t surprise me. They didn’t have the chances I did, of getting to meet indigenous people on that station all those years ago. Nor later, in the mid-80s when I fluked a job with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and, though still green as grass, was at least in a place to learn a whole lot more.

I was lucky, most of those mates I see doubting the Voice didn’t have those breaks. They went straight into trades or other careers. They worked hard and long and, while nowhere near Hansonite, have a feeling that if they had to graft for “everything” they’ve got, why should indigenous people get “something extra”.

Some mates in regional towns are more open about it, positively against programs to benefit indigenous people, let alone Constitutional recognition.

“Why should they get special treatment” is the refrain.

Well, fellers, it’s because they’ve already had a different form of “special” treatment.

The landmark 2013 High Court case of Bugmy, about sentencing an indigenous man for a serious crime, makes it plain for us all.

The Court found enormous social disadvantage in the instant case, but, critically, that such ingrained disadvantage does not diminish over time, regardless of how much a person re-offends, and therefore is to be “given full bearing” at sentence, even years and years down the track.

The NSW Public Defenders Office established the Bugmy Bar Book to assist criminal lawyers with clients from severe disadvantage when it comes to sentencing.

The chapter headings are harrowing. A selection: “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders”, “Incarceration of a Parent or Caregiver”, “Interrupted School Attendance and Suspension”, “Childhood Sexual Abuse”, “Homelessness” and “Unemployment”.

Doubters, take a look at just some of the cases that have followed Bugmy, in courts in all jurisdictions: the disadvantage is more than drastic, and it’s not self-inflicted. Most defendants mentioned never caught a break from the very start.

And the sentencing regime is not “another special deal” for indigenous defendants only. The High Court made plain that it applies to all people regardless of ethnic background. It’s just that more indigenous Australians have been more grossly disadvantaged.

Vast efforts and much money have been directed at correcting this disadvantage – at closing the gap. Some good folk I know bristle about that – and seem to think the Voice will somehow open the fiscal floodgates even further.

It won’t and it can’t.

In fact, it can’t actually do anything. The Parliament, in the plainest language, remains utterly supreme.

Doubters, take a little time.

Have a look at Senator Pat Dodson’s magnificent piece in The Monthly tracing the history of indigenous policy across the years, something the “Father of Reconciliation” has been at the forefront of for as long as there has been a designated federal minister, more than 50 years.

If that doesn’t move you, try Jade Ritchie talking to Narelda Jacobs for quickfire Q and A: @yes23au

Inserting race into the Constitution? Already there “and been used to harm us”, says Ritchie.

Special rights? “It is an advisory body that will simply give good advice to government. It has no veto power.

What about the 11 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders already in Parliament? Aren’t they enough? They represent their electorates and their parties “so very different to an advisory body”.

I could bang on about the other legs of your feared trifecta, being Treaty (I was, again, lucky enough to be in the press gallery when the notion of makarrata was first considered under Liberal Minister Peter Baume) and Truth, pointing you back to Senator Dodson’s article and his lifetime example.

But friends, how about you vote “Yes” first, and then we can talk again.

Maybe your biggest spur will be that smiling pamphleteer at the footy.

When I asked how it had been going, she noted the grinding indifference described above, but also a ray of hope.

The most positive response from any group had been the Collingwood army: those descendants of that hostile crowd at Victoria Park that Nicky Winmar took on three decades ago.