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Yes rallies issue call to cut through Voice falsehoods

The campaign for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament is firing up around Australia, with calls to remain focused on the referendum question after controversial comments about colonisation.

Mass marches have taken place across the nation, with Indigenous leaders calling for those who support a constitutionally enshrined advisory body to cut through disinformation they say is being spread by the ‘no’ side.

Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said the show of support had left her speechless.

“I am almost crying,” she told a Melbourne rally on Sunday.

“It’s truly overwhelming to look out over this crowd and see you, to know where your hearts are, to know where your spirit lives.”

Professor Maree Meredith told a Canberra rally that some people had more of an opportunity in society to have their voices heard and the referendum could help tip the scales by ensuring Indigenous voices were listened to.

“My people share their voices for eight years less than non-Indigenous Australians on average,” she said.

“It’s a chance to start to close the gap between life, education and opportunities of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.”

She also said the conversation on Indigenous disadvantage – which both sides of the campaign have said they want closed – was a small victory in itself.

Ngunnawal elder Aunty Violet Sheridan said the referendum wasn’t about the past but about the future after the debate in the past week was overshadowed by controversial comments about colonisation.

“Our voices deserve to be heard in the decisions that shape our lives, the lives of our children, our grandchildren,” she told the Canberra rally.

“Let’s ensure that our stories, our land, our voices are respected and valued in building a brighter, more inclusive Australia.”

It came after Opposition Indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jacinta Nampijinpa Price stirred controversy by saying British colonisation had not had lasting negative impacts on Aboriginal people.

Prominent ‘no’ campaigner Warren Mundine said the nation needed to “recognise the good and bad” of colonisation and move forward to avoid being “stuck in history”.

“You cannot go on forever saying that colonisation … is going to stop us from doing things, is going to stop us from improving our lives and keep us in poverty,” Mr Mundine told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.

He pointed to prominent Indigenous Australians such as himself and academic and activist Marcia Langton as examples that First Nations people were able to succeed.

Mr Mundine said the largest gap was not between black and white, but between cities and people living in remote and regional Australia.

“This is where the problems are, we have to stop treating Aboriginal people the same,” he said.

But Indigenous activist Joe Hedger said the impacts of colonisation were clear, pointing to the lasting impacts of the Stolen Generations.

“You only have to look at the circumstances of many of our communities, particularly where you have poor housing, you have poor services,” he told AAP.

“These things don’t just happen out of nothing, they’re an ongoing manifestation of things that have happened over 230 years ago.”

Mr Hedger said people in the Yes campaign should not mistake apathy from undecided voters as disdain for Indigenous people and “support them with truth”.

“Don’t confuse their hesitation for not caring – they deeply, deeply care about this vote and about the future of our nation,” he told a rally in Canberra on Sunday.

“Be kind, be gentle.”

Federal minister Bill Shorten said it was important the debate heads back to the basics and arguments are focused on the changes to the constitution before Australians.

“It’s far less dramatic and far less worrisome to the rest of Australia than some of the ‘no’ case are making out,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

Indigenous activist Noel Pearson said it was important Voice campaigns aren’t “distracted by these attempts to chuck controversy bombs into the water” by the ‘no’ side in order to distract from what the referendum was about.

Voters will head to the ballot box on October 14.

-AAP

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