September 2023

Referendum ‘a crucial turning point for Australia’

Former school captain of St Scholastica’s College and current Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy is travelling the length and breadth of Australia ahead of the referendum on the Voice to Parliament, urging people to vote Yes to a constitutional change she says will have a big impact on Australia’s First Nations people.

By Debra Vermeer

Senator McCarthy, who represents the Northern Territory, is a Yanyuwa and Garrawa woman who grew up between the communities of Borroloola and Alice Springs before attending St Scholastica’s College at Glebe in NSW from the age of 12.

She said the 14 October referendum on recognising Aboriginal people in the Constitution and establishing a Voice to Parliament to advise on issues and legislation that affects them was a crucial turning point for Australia.

“It’s such an important time for our country,” Senator McCarthy said.

“We are being asked to make a serious decision about keeping the status quo, where our First Nations people are dying at alarming rates from suicide and preventable illness, are being incarcerated at alarming rates, are being born with low birth weights or being still-born at double the rate of the rest of the population, or making a change for the better.

“I see this an opportunity as all Australians to decide whether we are going to vote Yes or No to an advisory body that allows our First Nations people to have a say on the issues that affect them.”

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy is travelling the length and breadth of the country. Image: Facebook.

Senator McCarthy said that with polls showing the Yes vote was trailing in the lead-up to the vote, she was concentrating her efforts on meeting as many people as she could and answering any questions they had.

“Referendums are very, very difficult, to make changes to the Constitution in this country,” she said. “There have only been eight out of 44 that have gone on to actually change the Constitution.

“So, it really is a case of getting out and talking to people, answering questions, listening and when you can have these conversations with people, I’m finding that many are willing to consider voting Yes.

“What I’m telling them is that this is simply an advisory body. I’m asking people to look beyond the disinformation and political games that the Parliament, in particular, has been displaying so vehemently against this advisory body.

“This Voice to Parliament was a request by First Nations people who travelled our country over a period of a year, and even more for some of them, talking and listening to the local communities and together they came up with the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

“I would encourage all Australians to actually read the Statement from the Heart before they vote – to read it and re-read it, to give it to family and friends, and to feel it.

“It will be up to the Parliament to determine what any model looks like and there will be opportunity for wide consultation and input from everyone in the community.”

Senator McCarthy called for a respectful national discussion during the referendum campaign.

“I’ve always said this has to be a respectful process. In our democracy we can agree or disagree peacefully, but we must talk with kindness, listen to others, put our case and then leave it to the people to make their decision,” she said.

“Unfortunately, there has been a rise of vile, unkind and hateful comments on social media particularly, and that is not the Australia I believe in or want to see.”

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy: “This is an opportunity to make a change for the better.” Image: Facebook.

Senator McCarthy said she continues to draw on her Good Samaritan schooling and her faith in her political and advocacy work, especially with the Voice campaign.

“I’m incredibly and deeply proud of my schooling and my life journey,” she said. “I see a deep connection between our faith and this journey, with the Voice. I think the parable of the Good Samaritan continues to show us the better path forward.

“I think a lot of people are saying at the moment, ‘Why should I care about the Voice or even vote on it, because it doesn’t impact me?’ But like in the parable, if we take the time to stop, to listen and to talk to them, we can change hearts.

“This is not a time for Australians to walk on by, as though it’s not their concern. This is an opportunity to vote for a change to the status quo and to make a change for the better by voting Yes to giving our First Nations people a say in the things that affect them, through establishing this advisory body in our Constitution.”

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy at the 2023 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards with artists and family: Kurdi Nancy McDinny, Stuart Hoosan, Kurdi Isa McDinny and Kurdi Shellie Morris. Image: Facebook.


Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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