The discussion on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament (the Voice) has gotten sillier by the day. First, racial abuse and misogynist attacks on Indigenous people who were going to say no to the Voice by ‘yes campaign’ leaders and supporters.
Then Stan Grant in an article on the ABC website: “If a Constitutional Voice helps keep us (Indigenous people) alive, why would we say no?” I don’t know what he was talking about here. Why wouldn’t we (Indigenous people) be alive if we didn’t have the Voice? We have done a good job of it for the past 200 years.
In fact, our population has grown, and our culture has gotten stronger. Stan Grant’s father, Stan Grant senior, has been central to that Indigenous language and cultural growth. This was all done without a Voice to Parliament. As with many Indigenous people like Stan Grant senior, my father and mother, and many others.
My father came from a small Aboriginal settlement in remote New South Wales with no electricity or running water, where families lived in small shacks made from materials they collected from around them. Women and girls slept in the shacks and my father slept on the ground outside with the other men and boys. My parents’ first home together was a tent by a river while Dad worked on a road project. They had their first two children living there.
My parents were determined to buy their own home and overcame huge obstacles to do so, including being paid less and not being able to get a bank loan because they were Aboriginal. But with determination and many sacrifices, they bought a small house and paid off the loan. When they moved to Sydney in the 1960s, they moved to a better home in Auburn and paid that off too. My father lived there until he died around the age of 90.
My parents were examples of the aspirational working class. Indigenous people, who wanted a better life for them and their children. Despite being the poorest of the poor with little education, they worked hard all their lives to become Sydney homeowners. They aspired to do better than their parents and to see their children do better again.
Their aspirations were answered. Many of their grandchildren have been to university, own their own homes and businesses and are building assets for their future. This isn’t unusual. Many other working class and Indigenous people families have done the same.
My father and mum’s nest egg was very modest. But the security and independence they had from owning a home outright in their retirement meant everything to them.
Indigenous people have achieved incredible things since WWII. The abolition of the discrimination laws by the beginning of the 1970s. Full voting rights federally and in most states by 1962 — and finally all states by 1965. Indigenous education programs started in the late 1960s and continue today.
We have Indigenous doctors, nurses and health workers, lawyers, magistrates and judges, engineers, accountants, teachers, entrepreneurs and businessmen and women.
There are Indigenous politicians in just about every state, territory and federal parliament as well as local government. All this was achieved by strong, determined Indigenous people who created their own vote, not a government Voice to Parliament.
In fact, we are sick of governments controlling our lives. We had that for over 200 years. Our forebears fought for our freedom and equality — and won. Self-determination is the freedom from governments and building a future for yourselves.
This Voice to Parliament is going to be a huge bureaucracy with our people tied to the government tit forever.
We want our own future determined like our ancestors, through our own hard work and determination.
Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO is the Director of the Indigenous Forum at the Centre for Independent Studies.
Photo by Emily Ranquist