Politics Opinion

Indigenous Voice to Parliament a good step, but not far enough

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

While the Federal Government has taken steps towards reparation with Australia's Indigenous people, more needs to be done to confer independence and sovereignty, writes DJ Cronin.

IMAGINE THE SCENARIO of invading a continent with many countries, wiping out most of its population, hoisting their flag and saying they discovered the “country”. Imagine putting some of them in zoos, stealing their children to bring them up differently and then celebrating the invasion day as a holiday.

Imagine some in the new country still having racist feelings towards its Indigenous people both overtly and covertly and governments introducing policy that does not truly address generational trauma.

Imagine this new country today deciding to give its First Nations people a “Voice to Parliament". Imagine some major political parties disagreeing with this.

The Voice to Parliament was described by one Twitter user as:

‘...A representative body made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from across the country. It sits outside the parliament and provides advice to the parliament and government on issues that have a particular impact on Indigenous people.’

While I personally support the Voice, simply because the alternative “No” answer is too horrific to even contemplate, I believe it simply does not go far enough.

But here we are, in a continent of nations asking one made-up nation and its majority whose population is now mainly White to vote on something that should have been enshrined in different ways many years ago.

We are offering the “Voice” while we still celebrate the day this continent was invaded. Our national flag still has the Union Jack – the invaders' flag – on it. We sing a national anthem in English and were so kind in changing one word in it as some so-called great token to our First Nations people — from ‘young and free’  to ‘one and free’. What a big deal.

We have a National Sorry Day. But are we truly sorry? Maybe it’s just a national “make us feel better” day for all the terrible injustices and problems we have brought to this continent.

I used to ignorantly celebrate Australia Day until I completed a cultural awareness two-day training course.

Most Australians grew up not knowing the true history. History is oft written by the victorious.

As an Irishman, I can experience firsthand what invasion means even today. I think and write and speak in English as speaking Irish was once forbidden in Ireland by the invaders. The native language was practically wiped out except for some western areas of the island.

Over a million starved to death and another million left the country to survive during the famine-genocide in Ireland. Ireland was abundant with food that was only to be used by the invaders and shipped offshore. But they allowed the Irish the potato. And when blight eradicated the potato it eradicated a million lives. Some had to “take the soup” and change their religion to eat.

Ireland is wrongly still divided into North and South. But that will change soon.

What changes for our First Nations people here on this continent? We will give them a Sorry Day and “a Voice” but even this will sit ‘outside of Parliament’.

A step, but a step not far enough.

The question in the referendum will be:

‘Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice?’

Yes of course but…

Whose Constitution? Ours?

According to Amnesty International:

Racial discrimination became illegal in Australia in 1976, but that hasn’t protected Indigenous people from still being much worse off, including in terms of health, education and unemployment. Many end up trapped by poverty and crime. Today, Australia’s Indigenous kids are 24 times more likely to be locked up than their non-Indigenous classmates.


New generations have inherited their relatives’ deep trauma and anger from losing their lands, cultures and families. To make things worse, the Australian Government has trotted out policies that effectively take away Indigenous Peoples’ basic rights – such as the Northern Territory Intervention – and forced Indigenous people to abandon their homes and communities.

Having a Voice without having a treaty is very problematic in my mind.

Australians Together states:

This is a major concern for many First Nations people. But why? In short, the lack of treaty in Australia goes to the very heart of the wound in our nation. The absence of a treaty suggests an ongoing denial of the existence, prior occupation and dispossession of First Nations Peoples in Australia and highlights a lack of engagement and relationship between First Nations people and non-Indigenous Australians.


What's a treaty?


Calls for a treaty in Australia refer to a formal agreement between the government and First Nations Peoples that would have legal outcomes. A treaty could recognise First Nations Peoples’ histories and prior occupation of this land, as well as the injustices many people have endured. It could also offer a platform for addressing those injustices and help to establish a path forward based upon mutual goals, rather than ones imposed upon First Nations people.


Treaties are accepted around the world as a way of reaching a settlement between First Nations Peoples and people who have colonised their lands. New Zealand, for example, has the Treaty of Waitangi, an agreement signed in 1840 between the British Crown and over 500 Maori chiefs; while Canada and the United States have hundreds of treaties dating back as far as the 1600s.

Sometimes systemic issues require radical change. I would propose that a First Nations party be elected by First Nations people and be given 51 per cent of seats in every future Parliament. It gives independence and sovereignty back to the First Nations people.

But what type of democracy is this? What type of democratic nation invades another? What type of democratic nation fights wars and spends billions on nuclear submarines and weapons of mass destruction when millions are starving all over the globe? What type of democracy takes part in war without the consent of its people?

We are living on First Nations land. It’s time to sign a treaty and give back the land to its rightful owners. It was stolen. We truly say “sorry” when we give it back.

The First Nations people have always had a connection to and cared for their land. With the rightful owners re-established we can see a new continent develop — one with a bright future, a clean future, a peaceful future and a continent that is truly neutral. And a new Constitution that respects the dignity of all.

Perhaps 90 per cent of you may think this idea is outrageous. Thought provocation can lead to systemic changes.

American author George Lois once said:

“The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything. And I really believe that. And what I try to teach young people, or anybody in any creative field, is that every idea should seemingly be outrageous.”

DJ Cronin is a guest on Quandamooka land and has been living on this continent for 27 years after emigrating from Ireland. He writes on volunteering and mindful leadership and is also a poet, actor and general larrikin.

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Indigenous Voice to Parliament a good step, but not far enough

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