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The Voice will address centuries of harm, hearing told

Early voting is beginning in four jurisdictions ahead of the October 14 voice referendum.

Early voting is beginning in four jurisdictions ahead of the October 14 voice referendum. Photo: AAP

Indigenous supporters of the Voice say constitutional recognition is the first step in turning around centuries of trauma and harm, but significant change will be generational.

A parliamentary committee on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice referendum is holding a public hearing in Orange, in central west New South Wales, one of two to be held in regional Australia this week.

Orange deputy mayor Gerald Power said while the 1967 referendum officially included Indigenous people in the population, the Voice would address the harm of not being recognised as humans during European colonisation.

“My mother died, my ancestors died without having a voice in the constitution,” Mr Power said during emotional testimony on Monday morning.

“The Voice is simply because we were never identified as humans … it needs to at least acknowledge that there were humans here. And it’s the oldest humans on the face of the planet, continuous ongoing.”

Mr Power said the 2008 national apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly the Stolen Generations, was a significant step towards fundamental change, which could be advanced by the Voice.

“Whether we get the Voice in the constitution, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to solve everything – it may take a while.”

Orange Aboriginal Medical Service chief executive Jamie Newman said the Voice was an opportunity to change direction after policies to close the gap had failed due to fragmented bureaucracy.

“It’d be remiss of us not to take this opportunity now to say we need a change in direction, if we’re going to get services on the ground, going to get outcomes for our people, if we’re ever going to close the gap,” Mr Newman said.

“It probably won’t happen in my lifetime, but I have a responsibility to my children, my grandchildren and the people of this community to ensure that step is taken.”

The committee is due to hold public hearings in Cairns and Perth this month, before returning to Canberra in May.

Orange independent MP and committee member Andrew Gee, who quit the National Party due to its opposition to the Voice, said he pushed for hearings in regional areas.

“I’m hopeful this Voice will succeed,” Mr Gee said before the hearing.

“It’s important for a number of reasons – to recognise Indigenous Australians in our nation’s founding document, but go beyond symbolic recognition and provide a Voice to government.

“It’s not rights above anyone else, it’s an advisory body, that can only lead to better outcomes than we’re getting at the moment.”

– AAP

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