Fear holding back reform, Indigenous activist says

Noel Pearson says Australians should stop fearing the changes the Indigenous Voice would bring.

Noel Pearson says Australians should stop fearing the changes the Indigenous Voice would bring. Photo: Getty

Australia has had a default position of saying ‘no’ to First Nations people and needed to stop fearing change, Indigenous activist Noel Pearson says

The Guugu Yimidhirr man from Cape York says the “power board of Australia has had the Aboriginal switch on no” for the past 250 years.

“We deserved recognition in 1788 and we didn’t get it, the switch was no,” he told an online seminar on Tuesday night.

“In 1901 with the constitution, where was the switch? The switch was no.”

He said even when the nation voted to remove racist clauses in the constitution in 1967, it still overlooked Indigenous recognition.

“It did not switch to the yes position on recognition, it did not do that.”

Mr Pearson said fear was stopping Indigenous people moving forward with reconciliation and called for Australians to back the Indigenous voice referendum.

“Fear is the best weapon against reform and change, fear is why we never say yes,” he said.

“We can’t finish a third century of fear, fearing of Aboriginal people.”

A consultative body would empower Indigenous people by giving them a seat at the table instead of platitudes “when January 26 comes around or some other cause of controversy brings us into the limelight”, Mr Pearson said.

“Where do you put the fulcrum to get an equal power relationship between the 97 per cent elephant and the three per cent mouse … in order for the mouse to have dignity, and a fair hearing in that relationship?

“We’re on the cusp of really coming to grips with problems of poverty and exclusion.

“It’s just that we need a smarter relationship, a more empowered relationship with the governments that hold the purse strings and that have the power.”


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