Indigenous elders and leaders from western New South Wales have rallied behind the “yes” vote for a First Nations Voice to Parliament, with one local leader citing the upcoming referendum as an unexpected once-in-a-generation opportunity.
Today a parliamentary committee hearing was held in Orange as part of the Commonwealth inquiry into the referendum, which is seeking to canvas the community’s views on the referendum’s legislative provisions.
Indigenous spokespeople from Orange, Lithgow and Wellington told the committee at its only regional hearing in NSW that a voice would be a much-needed change in direction to address structural disadvantages across the country.
Orange Aboriginal Medical Service chief executive Jamie Newman said a voice would also create consistent messaging and advocacy between constantly changing governments and ministers.
“I fail to see how we can be self-determined as a people when we face multiple barriers with constantly changing government and all their systems at every level,” he said.
“We need constancy and consistency if we’re ever going to achieve self-determination.”
Mr Newman said the voice would be a change to the system, which was not delivering for Aboriginal affairs.
“It would be remiss of us not to take this opportunity now to say we need a change in direction,” he said.
“What’s failed us in the past is fragmentation — we have different levels of access and engagement [to different levels of government].
“When we have multiple levels of government not even talking to one another … it’s doomed to fail.”
In 2021, Orange City Council Deputy Mayor Gerald Power became the first Indigenous person to be elected to the council.
He said the reaction from his community to finally have an Indigenous voice on the council showed why there needed to be a voice at the federal level.
“I never thought we would even come this close — I thought I’d be dead,” Cr Power said.
“My mother died, my ancestors died without having a voice in the constitution, and that voice is simply because we were never identified as humans.”
Alisha Agland from the Uluru Youth Dialogue also spoke in Orange and said the voice was particularly important for young Indigenous people.
“Essentially it means we’re included in the conversations rather than decisions being made for us, without us,” she said.
Ms Agland said the voice needed to be enshrined in the constitution so that it could not be “quietened” or “taken away” by future governments.
Public hearings will take place over the next fortnight in Cairns, Perth and Canberra.