Your Constitution was designed to erase us. Your token Voice does not empower us

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The referendum date has been announced, and official campaigning has begun. This will be a difficult time for my people. Many of our activists, elders and allies have been yelled at and called racist for not accepting Yes campaign propaganda. The weeks ahead will cause more pain for the many First Peoples and allies who don’t want this referendum.

If the referendum does succeed, we will have another year or more of the colonial parliament debating legislation that will allow us “to be heard”, while the government defers accountability to the future Voice. Truth and Treaty will remain on the backburner.

Independent senator for Victoria Lidia Thorpe. “Our voices are an inconvenient truth.”Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Behind the smoke and mirrors of the Voice, Labor governments have continued their war on our people and Country. They are pushing ahead with mining projects against the rights and voices of traditional custodians. They are overseeing the removal of our babies at record rates – almost 23,000 in out of home care. They are pushing the incarceration of our children with record cruelty – Queensland has just overridden its own Human Rights Act for the second time this year.

There is an acceptance that self-determination lies at the heart of improving First Peoples’ lives. The premise of the Voice is that the government will make decisions that improve our lives once they hear our voices. Yet, Closing the Gap targets continue to be unmet despite wide consultation and co-design. Self-determination is not about getting a say that can and will be ignored, it is about real power to make the decisions that affect our lives and Country.

Given their track-record of ignoring our advice, recommendations and knowledge, and insistence on a powerless Voice that can be redesigned or ignored at the government’s whim, on what basis does the Australian government – Labor or Coalition – deserve our faith and trust?

The strategy of the Yes campaign is to hide the violence of the government by focusing on the racist No campaign and refusing to engage with or acknowledge the progressive No case. The idea that Labor would really listen and respond to First Nations’ voices is only believable when it’s presented in contrast to the likes of David Adler.

Lidia Thorpe taking part in Melbourne’s Invasion Day rally on January 26.Credit: Alexi J. Rosenfeld

Without the racist No, the Yes campaign would be left to engage with the many people, communities and nations they claim to speak for.

Constitutional recognition was pushed by former prime minister John Howard in an effort to kill moves towards a Treaty and The Voice is just another advisory body (being in the Constitution does not make its advice any harder to ignore). These are not discussions the Yes campaigners want to have. But they are true and without hard truths we cannot move forward.

When the Yes campaign is forced to confront the arguments of the progressive No – to respect elders, activists, frontline workers – they ignore or dismiss us. Our voices are an inconvenient truth.

We were dismissed, disrespected and ignored from the beginning of the campaign for constitutional recognition, and this continued through the dialogues and the Uluru meeting. The response of Megan Davis to my criticism of this process clearly demonstrates their strategy. Davis twisted my exposure of the constitutional recognition campaign banning “significant leaders from the movement because of their cynicism about government”, to suggest I was lying. My point was not about me, it was about the many other critics of the process that were actively silenced. Some sovereign people protesting this process were violently arrested. There was no consensus. I was at the table for the dialogues at the Uluru Convention and I saw first-hand the top-down nature of the process. That is why I and many others walked out.

The Yes campaign is actively working hand in glove with Labor, mining companies and corporate Australia instead of engaging with the people they claim to represent. They are in alliance with people and organisations which, history shows, are the ones most benefiting from the continued oppression of First Peoples.

Addressing the Truth is not easy or convenient, but it is essential. When we say our sovereignty has never been ceded, we speak Truth.

As sovereign people, we do not want to be in your Constitution. Your Constitution was designed to erase our existence and for us to be recognised in it with a token Voice does not empower us, it is another step in the process of assimilation.

If the Yes vote wins, we are guaranteed more of the same: First Nations voices calling for control over our lives and Country, and governments twisting, bullying and ignoring them as they continue to kill us and benefit from our land.

If the No vote wins, we will start afresh: A clean slate to work together to explore and own the Truth of this country. Those fighting for real change will be emboldened.

The Blak Sovereign Movement’s pamphlet on the referendum presents a way forward to peace and real change. Stand with us.

Lidia Thorpe is a DjabWurrung Gunnai Gunditjmara woman and a federal senator for Victoria.

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