News

Voting on The Voice: Interviews on Both Perspectives

By: 96five

On Saturday 14 October 2023, Australians will vote in a historic referendum to decide whether to change the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.

Christian Media & Arts Australia (CMAA) has partnered with Better Balanced Futures – representing the combined Faith Communities of Australia – to present respectful interviews representing both the “yes” and “no” perspectives in order for you to add to your other research in making an informed voting decision.

Below, Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price represents the “no” case, while Noel Pearson represents the “yes” case. These interviews, conducted by Dwayne Jeffries, include issues requested to be raised by leaders of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu communities. Each community has been supplied with transcripts and recordings, which you will also find below.

Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price – “No” case. Read transcript below.


Noel Pearson – “Yes” case. Read transcript below.


Interview with Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price for the No Campaign

Interviewed by Dwayne Jeffries, on behalf of Better Balanced Futures, representing the combined faith communities of Australia.

DWAYNE:
Senator, thank you so much for your time, and for spending some valuable moments with the combined faith communities of Australia, a very large group who care deeply, naturally enough, about the position and the rights of Indigenous Australians. Can I ask how you are right now with the nature of the debate? What impact has it had on you?

JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Well, let’s just say I’m very exhausted – the amount of travel, the energy that’s required to get around the country and talk about an issue that’s I think very personal to me, as well, it’s definitely taken a lot out of me. But, I have to keep going.

DWAYNE:
With the headlines being very much focused on the immediate referendum, could you share a little bit with our listeners: what the real state of affairs is for people you love and care for in the Indigenous communities around Australia.

JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Yeah sure. Well I guess, with my own family, my mother is from the community of Yuendumu. She was born under a tree, her first language is not English it’s Warlpiri. Predominantly, most of my family are Warlpiri speakers, they’re first language speakers, as opposed to English, you know, is not their first language. Growing up in a place like Alice Springs, having a lot of contact with the remote Indigenous communities where my families lived, I saw… you know I’ve lived first-hand the sorts of issues that they’re being confronted with. Alcohol and drug abuse, domestic and family violence – circumstances that I’ve grown up understanding quite well in my life. I was very lucky to have a very loving family with my parents, but our extended family experienced, and still experience, these things. Some of the most marginalised Australians in the country.

DWAYNE:
And these are common experiences?

JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
In a place like the Northern Territory, very common. You know there aren’t many Indigenous families that don’t have a family member that’s suffering from alcohol or substance abuse, gambling, some form of addiction, in the Northern Territory also. We have a lot of my family who are still very connected to traditional culture, cultural obligations. My mother was supposed to be part of an arranged marriage and become a second wife at the age of 13, when she was younger, so there are elements of traditional culture that still impact my family’s lives. Much in a very positive way, but there are also elements of our culture that I guess do things like accept violence like if there is wrong doing – you know if there’s wrongdoing, there’s an expectation that cultural payback is applied. Any premature death or illness is thought to be caused through sorcery, and there has to be somebody held responsible and some form of payback – and sometimes that payback involves violence. These are the sorts of day-to-day lives that people live in the Northern Territory.

Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price being interviewed by Dwayne Jeffries, Hope Media.
Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price being interviewed by Dwayne Jeffries, Hope Media.

DWAYNE:
Given those complex backgrounds, how can faith communities contribute toward drawing the nation together, Indigenous and other Australians?

JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Well the faith community has had a lot of influence throughout communities within the Northern Territory. The missionaries provided, during the violence of the frontier, the missionaries provided safe haven for a lot of Indigenous groups – so my mother was brought up a Baptist in her community, and there are other communities that are in the Lutheran community, as well as Catholic. It depends on which community you are from, it usually determines your faith, because that, there has been missionaries that have long been involved with those communities. And I think it’s not acknowledged enough the good work that was done, back in the day, to not just provide safe haven against the violence of the frontier,  but provide the opportunity for Indigenous Australians to become skilled and become part of the Australian economy as well – and learning those skills into employment and those sorts of things. So, and there’s a lot of work that is done in the faith communities throughout the Northern Territory, to support our indigenous Australians, because, of course you know, it comes with those communities. The fact that – obviously, you know, my family and my community are Indigenous, but they’re Australians as well and often Australians in need.

DWAYNE:
As a vocal opponent of the voice to parliament – if it’s not going to be this profile of response, what, in your recommendation, is the way to go?

JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Well, the way to go, as I see it is, well, my biggest concern is I think it’s separatism. I believe it’s separatism that has brought us to the situation that we are currently confronted with, as Indigenous Australians, being treated differently, being treated in some cases like charity cases, that will always require somebody else to scoop in and rescue us when… removing our agency, and having the ability to stand on their own two feet. But, going forward, what I would like to see is – and I’m prepared to roll my sleeves up and get my hands dirty as the shadow minister for Indigenous Australians – to look at the structures that currently do exist. Because we do have many voices within those structures and bureaucracies and currently I have a motion on the floor of the Senate – which myself and senator Kerrynne Liddle from South Australia, who is also an Aboriginal woman, an Arrernte woman, we’ve drafted this motion because we want to hold an inquiry into land councils, statutory authorities, bureaucracies that receive federal funding and are responsible for improving the lives of marginalised Indigenous Australians. I would like to fix the problem – the system that currently exists – and provide more accountability measures going forward. I just don’t think we’ve done enough of that well enough, and creating a whole new very expensive bureaucracy, and slapping it over the top of all of that that currently exists, I don’t believe is the way forward.

DWAYNE:
The voice has been variously described in, and I quote, as “powerless or patronising”, and others believe it to be an open door to activism and a disruption to all lives across the country. What’s your view of what the voice is?

JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Well, simply put, we don’t know what it is we just don’t know because we don’t have a solid proposal that we can, hand on heart, say that we feel informed enough to say yes to. I believe, if we listen to the proponents of the voice and their arguments, and certainly what’s been written in Document 14, which is known as the Uluru statement, a lot of what exists in there, there’s very little in the way of suggesting in practical terms how it’s going to improve the lives of our marginalised. There are, however certainly plans or demands for reparations, paying the rent, you know, creating even a separate sort of power, if you like, a separate kind of black parliament or chamber. To me, separatism doesn’t work. But attempting to meet the demands of activists continually isn’t about supporting our most marginalised, and it hasn’t got us anywhere so far, in practical terms.

DWAYNE:
Every voting household around the country received a pamphlet, that I’m assuming you contributed to, which had both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ case in it. In the interests of an alternative view, there isn’t a statement in the ‘yes’ side that includes some of the things you just mentioned. How do we define the difference between facts and non-facts?

JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Well, there isn’t anything, really, to give us confidence of what this is going to look like, because, I mean, and I have undertaken the task of questioning the government on the floor of the Senate from 6:00pm at night till 4:00am in the morning, to understand better the detail, to understand how people are supposed to be, whether they’re elected or whether they’re chosen. And what I’ve been told is that they will be chosen by community members. To me, that concerns me deeply, because I’m also an advocate against domestic and family violence, and in a lot of small communities they controlled quite often by the most aggressive individuals. So, if it’s suggested that we just leave it up to the decisions of communities, in that way, that’s just opening a can of worms for conflict, for the most aggressive to eventually take control and end up being the representative. And these are the concerns that are brought to me also by Indigenous people in remote communities, of how this is all supposed to pan out, and how two people… we don’t know whether they’re…. you know for the Northern Territory it’s being proposed, but we don’t know until after we voted yes, it’s supposed to be all put together after the fact, I mean, we don’t know how two Indigenous people from the Northern Territory are supposed to represent everybody. I mean, you know, I’m related to so many Indigenous groups, so many different groups, and there’s already infighting within the structures that exist. So I believe this will just provide more opportunity for that level of conflict, and a lot of Indigenous Australians are concerned for that. And, as you know, well we don’t not really know what it’s supposed to be.

DWAYNE:
The charge that’s being put to the no campaign is “you don’t like this, what do you want to do?”, to solve the great gap issues between Indigenous Australians and other Australians. What is your response to that? What do, what does, the ‘no’ campaign stand for?

JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Sure. Well, lucky for me, prior to coming into the senate, I headed up the Indigenous research programme for the centre for independent studies, and what we found was – you know, for me, it’s about, the starting point has to be from an honest perspective. So, the gap doesn’t exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, the gap exists between those who have, and those who have not. Now, the further you move away from a capital city, the more marginalised Australians become – everybody – but, our most marginalised, and within the Indigenous community (which is 3% of Australians), only 20% of those are, in fact, marginalised. So, the voice is suggesting that we are inherently disadvantaged for no other reason but our race, but there is an Indigenous middle class that are doing very, very well for ourselves. The focus shouldn’t be on all Indigenous Australians. It should be on those who are marginalised, and you watch, you will find, and what we found in my research, is that the most marginalised are those whose first language is not English, who are still connected to traditional culture, and living in regional and remote parts of the country. So, what I would do is, I would pinpoint where the most marginalised are, and focus efforts, in terms of priority, on them. But, ultimately service Australians on the basis of need, as opposed to race.

DWAYNE:
It appears, polls are telling us, that the ‘no’ campaign could well be victorious, in the run up through this referendum. What would be the outcome if that were to be the case? And I’d like to hear from you, what your thoughts are, if it were to be a ‘yes’.

JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Sure. Well, look, I think, either way, I think this is the most divisive referendum we’ve ever experienced in our nation’s history, and so it concerns me either way. It’s not, it’s not going to be a win for anybody, I don’t think, whether it’s a yes, whether ‘yes’ is successful or ‘no’ was successful, and there’s going to have to be a lot of work done going forward to bring our country back together. I mean, I haven’t seen the issue of race, so prominently, for some time in our country. So if ‘no’ gets up, for me, as the shadow minister, as I said, I’m trying to kick off a process already of accountability, of understanding where the money is being spent, and providing the opportunity for it to be better focused and spent to produce outcomes – that is what I’m pushing for, and that’s what I’ll continue to push for after the fact. If the yes vote is successful, I will be fighting tooth and nail from the Senate to ensure that there’s the least destructive model of what this might be, is created. You know, and it’s been suggested, that we will all have a say in it, it’s all wonderful. Well, I’ve been in the Senate, and if you don’t have the numbers you don’t have that much influence. So I think it’s wrong to suggest that, you know, I will play any significant role – it’s only it’s at the whim of the government, whether they want anyone else other than the Greens, who support them, to play a role in determining what this might look like. And look, a couple of other points that I want to make on this issue, also, is that: one, and, particularly, I know, there’s a great migrant community here too, and, I think, for me, as an Australian, we have a wonderful shared Australian values that we’ve all created together. Whether we’re from the first peoples, whether we’re from the convict class, who are my ancestors, also, or whether we’re from the migrant community who have come here more recently. I’m married to a proud ‘Scossie’ who’s a recent Australian, and I would hate to see our country create classes of people determined by heritage in this country, I’m dead-set against it. I would not want for someone who’s come here more recently to feel as though they’re less Australian. So that’s another reason why I can’t agree with this. But also that the voice, the entity itself, once constitutionally enshrined, has the constitutional power and right to challenge the executive – which is the parliament, federal parliament, which is state and territory parliaments, local government, which are the departments and the agencies, the bureaucracies, the Governor General, even. I mean if they put forward an argument enough, where they’re not pleased with a draft bill or something like that, they can challenge that in the High Court which is their constitutional right to do so, which, you know, becomes the dirt in the cogs, you know, slowing parliament down, and that’s concerning if it comes to any issues of emergency related issues. Or even, you know, matters that affect Indigenous Australians are everything, because we’re, we are Australians.

DWAYNE:
Time is short, I have one last question for you. You spoke about division in the process of this referendum. What’s your heart for what comes after? How do we re-knit into an Australia of your dreams, from here?

JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Yeah, that’s a tough question. I mean, for me personally, I feel like I’ve been on a journey with this referendum. My hope, being somebody who has an Aboriginal mother and a white Australian father and a migrant husband, and I mean my children, their background is of mixed heritage too. My kids, we’ve got a blended family, so I’ve got a step-son and my three sons and they’ve got Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English, French, Malay, Indian, a little bit Chinese, a great, great grandfather from Mozambique… you know I’ve said they could probably make a land claim on every continent on the globe… but that’s beside the point. Again, for me, it’s about bringing us back to our wonderful shared Australian culture and our wonderful shared Australian values. I don’t want to see any more guilt politics within our country. I know that the vast majority of Australians have immense goodwill toward Indigenous Australians and so I see myself railing against guilt politics, the demands of activists to entrench this idea as though Indigenous Australians need to be treated differently to everybody else, when we don’t. We’ve got a wonderful country that provides the opportunity for every Australian to succeed. For our most marginalised, it’s about focusing our efforts on them to ensure that they know how to take those opportunities for their lives, and understand that they do have choice as well, and that’s a remarkable part of our country.

DWAYNE:
Senator Nampijinpa Price, thank you so much for sharing with the faith communities of Australia.

JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Thank you so much.

Transcript presented with minor edits, for understanding.


Interview with Noel Pearson for the Yes Campaign

Interviewed by Dwayne Jeffries, on behalf of Better Balanced Futures, representing the combined faith communities of Australia.

DWAYNE:
Noel Pearson, thank you for taking the time to speak with me, and the various faith communities around Australia.

NOEL PEARSON:
Thank you for the opportunity.

DWAYNE:
Faith communities represent not just a significant part of Australia, but are also committed to doing what’s best for our First Nations peoples. As a leader in your community, what are the biggest issues facing Indigenous Australians today, and has that list changed over your time in public service?

NOEL PEARSON:
OK there’s problems that we share with other disadvantaged peoples, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and they’re problems of poverty and disadvantage, intergenerational welfare dependency, and all of the problems that come with that. But there’s also issues that we face that arise from our history as Indigenous peoples in this country, and our experience through 230 years of British colonisation of Australia, commencing in 1788 – the dispossession of our people from our homelands, the removal of people and children from families, our various experiences on the frontier, and in the aftermath of the frontier. All of these things represent a legacy in the present, that historical treatment, and we’re trying to tackle the legacy of both.

DWAYNE:
Is there anything specifically that faith communities can do, that isn’t being done yet?

Noel Pearson with Dwayne Jeffries and Neelima Paravastu
Dwayne Jeffires, Hope Media GM, with Yes campaign’s Noel Pearson, and Neelima Paravastu of the Hindu Council of Australia

NOEL PEARSON:
Well I was actually born in the Lutheran mission, in Cape York Peninsula, as was my father, and my grandfather had been removed to a mission, to the mission in Cape Bedford, in 1899, and the mission had begun with the Lutherans, a young 19-year old missionary came out from Bavaria, and, had he not established the mission, we would have been done for, I think, historically. He found our people in a pretty dire straits, there’d been a gold rush at Cooktown that had been quite devastating for the Aboriginal people of the region, and he established a mission to which he committed himself for 50 years. And, without him, my historical assessment would be that we would have been, in a, you know, we wouldn’t have been able to rebuild families inside the mission, we wouldn’t have kept our languages, we wouldn’t have kept our cultures, even though the experiences they had, you know, being drawn in from multiple places around Queensland, far flung places, removed from their homelands and their families… Nevertheless, they reconstructed a new community at Cape Bedford mission, and that’s been my home ever since.

DWAYNE:
As combined faith communities we also have constituents in heavily invested members from the Hindu community, in Islamic communities and the Buddhist communities and so many others what invitation would you like to offer or encouragement as we’re considering our role as believers in supporting First Nations Australians.

NOEL PEARSON:
Oh, it’s the empowerment of our people. I think this is the number one problem of our communities. We are severely disempowered. We were locked out of opportunity for a long time. Throughout the 20th century, you know, we were locked out of opportunities for better education. My father went to grade three, in the mission, when he had the intelligence to do better. It’s just, unlike America, we just didn’t offer many educational opportunities beyond a rudimentary primary education, until the 1960s, and then the Lutheran Church opened up access to its colleges, in southeast Queensland, and which is where I ended up going to high school, at a boarding school run by the Lutherans in Brisbane, and it opened up all of the world of opportunity to me that my family could not provide for me. And then as a result of that I completed year 12 in Brisbane, as did my brother, and so many other children from the remote communities, and I went on to university in Sydney to become a lawyer. But it was all because the church was the first mover in this, long before government provided scholarships actually, the churches were providing opportunities for Aboriginal children. But I really contrast it with the United States and North America, where black colleges were established you know in the early part of the 20th century, in fact, the late 19th century, there were making provision for schools for African Americans and so on. Whereas in Australia it was very, very late 1960s, 1970s was when education became available, and the churches were at the forefront of it.

DWAYNE:
Let’s go to the voice, specifically. Your proposition is that the voice, in its current form, is the best way forward to address that disadvantage you’ve already spoken of. Why is this voice the answer?

NOEL PEARSON:
Firstly I would say it is crucial to the empowerment process that we be able to make representations, give good advice, so that we get better policies. And, if we get better policies, and better response from government, we’ll get better outcomes. So the idea of an advisory committee, do you think that’s really beyond the capacity of Australians to understand and support? I don’t understand how there could be a scare campaign around an advisory committee. The MPs that we elect to the parliament are still the ones that decide what the policies are, and what the laws are, all we’re doing with the voice is empowering Indigenous people to make representations to those bodies.

DWAYNE:
Critics of the voice of course challenged the idea on the grounds that one group of people can’t possibly represent the combined nations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around the country what’s your view on that?

NOEL PEARSON:
OK, I come from a community, right. I’m ex-mission. And Hope Vale would need to speak at the local level, would need a voice at the local level, so we can sort out the local issues to do with children, education, health, infrastructure, housing, and everything else at the local level. And we will have the opportunity to work with the parliament, following a successful referendum, we’ll have an opportunity to make sure the local footprint of the voice at the Hope Vale level, at the Yuendumu level, at the Wilcannia level, at the La Perouse level, we will have a mechanism to make sure that those local communities that actually have to do the on the ground change, you know if you’re going to close the gap, you can’t close it in Canberra, you gotta close it in La Perouse, you gotta close it in Dubbo… I can tell you after 20-plus years of advocating specific programs, and specific initiatives, to help families. We have a Family Responsibilities Commission, because of the collapse of responsibility caused by welfare, we actually have a Commission that says the elders can step in and oblige parents to send their kids to school, to look after their house, to ensure that you know parents and adult are abiding by the law, and ensuring that the housing tenancy is properly looked after. We have to do that, because that’s combating the problems of welfare, and you know it took me and my colleagues in Cape York to fight for this reform, and it was so hard, it took a long time, and we got a response, and we’re really happy with what’s happening. But you know that’s just one community, not everybody has the ability to force the change, and force the reform, and when we have the voice we’re going to be in a position to ask ourselves the question: ‘what impact… does that empower people, or does it just empower the people providing the programme?’. And this is going to be the great thing. We’re going to save money, and we’re going to use money more purposefully, because I believe if you support the family to rebuild, you will get better results. But the one thing you can’t avoid doing is you gotta play some responsibility back in their hands.

DWAYNE:
OK let’s go to October 15, the day after the referendum. The nation has voted ‘yes’. What’s the timeline, what happens next?

NOEL PEARSON:
Oh I am sure it we will then need to work on the legislation. The parliament will have to develop the legislation, pass legislation, and we will need to work with them on the creation of a bill, to design it as best possible, and that will take some time. But once we implement the structure, I think this whole thing will play out, and we’ll start to see the benefit of having programmes, having policies, not just that are better designed, but that have got our skin in the game. Because one of the problems at the moment is that government does everything, government takes responsibility for everything, they have to account for everything, and we just sit back and judge, we criticise. Whereas the future will be: oh, it’s the government and the community that are now in this, and we’re both jointly responsible, and you can jointly blame us. I heard a young leader from the Kimberley say this three weeks ago, and it really really, really struck me, he said “you can blame us, but first give us the responsibility, first give us the voice”. And I think that will be the change, after we do this referendum. You know this is a time for faith. Have faith in us. We are a good people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, my people, we’re a good people. Don’t be fearful of us. Have belief in us, that is the one thing we need from our fellow Australians – some faith, hope, and belief in our capacity to finally tackle our problems.

DWAYNE:
If it’s a ‘no’, how do we go about solving the disadvantage, that we’re still dealing with today, before the referendum?

NOEL PEARSON:
Well ‘no’ will be a continuation of the present. A situation where every year the Prime Minister goes into the parliament and tells us ‘oh we haven’t made progress on closing this gap, we haven’t made progress on closing this gap, and we haven’t made progress on closing this gap’… we’ll have a continuation of that.

DWAYNE:
You don’t see any other future?

NOEL PEARSON:
Well, what future have we had over the last say 26 years – 21 of which have been, well we’ve had a coalition government? 21 years. If the status quo was ever going to produce the right results, we’ve had 21 years to prove it, and it hasn’t happened. So those who say ‘oh keep it as it is, keep the status quo’, where is their evidence that that is ever gonna change anything because it hasn’t so far.

DWAYNE:
Noel, we’re coming to the end of our time together, thank you for it. The conversation over the last weeks and months haven’t always been healthy. Come October 15, a fork in the road, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the 15th, how do we come together as a nation after all of that, and form a straight line together?

NOEL PEARSON:
You know where the first fork in the road was? In 1901, when we were excluded from the constitution, the constitution of our own country. That was the source of the problem. We’re going to fix it now, we’re going to close the gap, we’re going to put that one missing piece back into the constitution, that recognises – these are the words: “In recognition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as the first peoples of Australia”. That’s the kind of keystone of the Commonwealth that’s missing, and in 2023 we’re going to do something we didn’t do in 1901. In 1901 we were excluded from the constitution, we now have an opportunity with this referendum to put that keystone back into our constitution, and complete a united Australia.

DWAYNE:
Noel Pearson, thank you so much for chatting with us.

NOEL PEARSON:
Thank you for having me.

Transcript presented with minor edits, for understanding.


Article supplied with thanks to 96five.

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