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‘I’ve always stood strong’: Warren Mundine plays down break with No camp

Warren Mundine is urging Australians to vote 'no' in the voice referendum.

Warren Mundine is urging Australians to vote 'no' in the voice referendum. Photo: AAP

No campaign spokesman Warren Mundine says voting against the Voice to Parliament referendum will speed up the treaty-making process with Indigenous Australians.

In an interview on Sunday, Mundine diverged from and inverted some of the main arguments against the referendum used by campaign groups like Fair Australia, for which he is the joint spokesman.

His comments come after an increasingly polarising debate about the referendum reached its most bitter point last week. 

Crystal clear

Mundine restated his view that the date of Australia Day needed to change from January 26.

“Our message is crystal clear,” wrote Fair Australia in February.

“If Labor and the Greens get their way on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, say goodbye to Australia Day.”

Opponents like Fair Australia also argue the Voice will pave the way to the payment of reparations to Indigenous people and a treaty process. 

But Mundine said his view was consistent. 

“I’ve always stood strong on this … even though I know people on my side don’t agree with me,” he said.

Mundine has previously described January 26, 1788, the establishment of a European settlement in Sydney Cove, as a day marked by feelings of “sadness, anger and grief” for Indigenous Australians.

And since 2017, he has argued against entrenching a national Voice in the constitution but in favour of local representative bodies to manage native title and advance the welfare of local Indigenous people.

On Sunday, Mundine said negotiating a single national treaty would not work across diverse Indigenous nations and the current debate was slowing down progress on addressing the most significant disparities in regional areas. 

“We need to resolve the issues and stop the fights,” he said.

“(Treaties) solve issues of sovereignty (and the) need to give protection of Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal heritage on these lands.”

Mundine’s comments drew a sharp rebuke in Melbourne, where an estimated 30,000 people turned out at a Walk for Yes event, one of 40 rallies held around Australia on Sunday supporting the referendum.

“The No campaign talks about wanting to get practical improvement,” Attorney-General Mark Drefyus said.

“(They) should be voting Yes if they want practical improvement in the lives of Aboriginal people because that’s what this referendum is about.”

In a speech to the Press Club last week, his fellow No campaigner, Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, said that colonialism had no ongoing negative consequences for Indigenous Australians.

Mundine said it was “just a fact” that Indigenous Australians continued to suffer from past mistreatment and praised Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations as a “good healing process”.

But he said focusing on the legacy of colonialism risked neglecting practical changes and leaving Indigenous Australians “stuck in history”.

Moves towards a treaty gained traction under the Hawke Labor government after the Barunga Statement of 1988.

But the former prime minister’s promise to deliver one by the decade’s end did not materialise.  

In 2018, the Victorian government became the first state to legislate a treaty process.

The New South Wales Labor government appointed a Minister for Treaty in April.

Performing in Melbourne’s Federation Square, Midnight Oil frontman and former federal minister Peter Garret said the October 14 referendum was a chance that should not be wasted. 

“Countries only get to make decisions like this once in a lifetime,” he said.

“It must be understood as one of the most important things that we, as a fair nation, can ever do.”

Last week Professor Marcia Langton, a referendum working group member, said the media had misrepresented comments she made describing arguments by the No campaign as being rooted in racism or stupidity. 

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