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Inquiry told heart of voice ‘let’s our mob speak’

The voice will amplify grassroots voices, Uluru Dialogues co-chair Pat Anderson says.

The voice will amplify grassroots voices, Uluru Dialogues co-chair Pat Anderson says. Photo: AAP

A prominent human rights advocate has told federal MPs she wants every Australian to understand that the heart of the voice proposal will empower Indigenous people to have a say on matters that affect them.

Uluru Dialogues co-chair Pat Anderson said the message from Indigenous people across the country had been consistent in the dozens of dialogues she had joined on constitutional recognition.

“The voice is about getting grassroots voices amplified and feeding into Canberra, representing the views and voices of their communities,” she told the parliamentary committee on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice referendum in Canberra on Friday.

“The really important message from the dialogues was that there is no voice that exists now that represents who we are and what we want.

“That’s a really powerful message.”

Professors Megan Davis, Marcia Langton and Tom Calma also addressed the committee, as did Uluru statement campaigner Thomas Mayor and retired journalist Kerry O’Brien, who have co-written a book about the voice

And while their areas of expertise are different, they all agreed on one point.

The status quo for Indigenous people in this country is not acceptable.

Prof Davis, co-chair of the Uluru Dialogues, said the bill was the culmination of a 16-year national discussion of constitutional recognition.

“This bill has deep roots in generations of advocacy by First Nations people concerned about Indigenous disempowerment, structural powerlessness and a constitution that makes no reference to the polities that have occupied Australia for more than 60,000 years,” she said.

“The dialogues advocated for substantive constitutional change that would alter the status quo. They called for empowerment through voice that could speak to both parliament and the government but one that could also evolve and change over the decades to come.”

The inquiry is only looking at the legislation needed for a referendum and will also hold public hearings in Orange on Monday and Cairns on Wednesday.

Committee member, South Australian Liberal senator and Arrernte woman Kerrynne Liddle told AAP she had “strong reservations” about the voice but was looking forward to interrogating the detail in the proposed legislation.

“What the impact of those words are, because in the constitution, as in legislation, words matter,” she said.

“This is a really important decision from them and if they vote because they feel like they should because they’re on the right side of history, or they feel guilty about voting any other way, then that will be a real disappointment to everyone.”

– AAP

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