Is the Voice an opportunity for change or will it only further divide our community?
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Five community leaders came head to head to discuss Voice to Parliament in a forum at the Dubbo Regional Theatre and Convention Centre on Tuesday, October 11.
Sitting on the panel was local lawyer Jarah Maraschio, member for Parkes Mark Coulton, journalist and author Jen Cowley and Dubbo councillors Pam Wells and Lewis Burns.
Over the course of the hour-long discussion moderated by ABC journalist Nick Lowther the panlists stated their cases for and against the Voice and answered questions submitted by the public.
Maraschio: "My opinion is a pretty clear and unequivocal 'Yes'.
I have had the privilege of being taught in my studies by Professor Megan Davis who was an indigenous leader that announced the Uluru Statement from the Heart ... seeing the clear call from that is something that I'd proudly vote 'Yes' for."
Coulton: "I'm on the record saying that I am disappointed in the process. I've been strongly supportive of recognition for my entire time in parliament... But I won't support something I think is divisive and I am tasked with the job of doing something that is legally correct."
Cowley: "For those who do know me, you'll understand that for me to be on the fence or undecided is an unfamiliar position for me. I've learned through my career, the importance of giving a voice to people who don't have it.
It's been very disappointing to me that both sides of the equation have been hijacked by very loud voices and by voices who are not necessarily representative of the great mass of people behind each of those equations."
Wells: "Coming to the decision to vote 'Yes' wasn't difficult at all. The reason I say that is because Aboriginal people, First Nations people, are still highly overrepresented in so many statistics like suicide and incarceration and the number of children being removed from their homes to be placed in foster care.
For me, it's about having that opportunity to be in that space and have the storytelling conversation around what we can do as people of this nation to change things and make things better for our nation."
Burns: "When I first heard about the voice, I was leaning towards the 'Yes', but then as I learned more about it I came to the conclusion that it would be too divisive. I'm already seeing that. I can't see it as a good thing.
It feels as though it's been rushed through and it's really messy even though it's been a lot of time since the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It just doesn't feel right and when something doesn't feel right I'll say 'No'."
Maraschio: "With the Voice, first came listening and Dubbo was one of the 13 places that were consulted for the establishment of the precursor to the Uluru Statement ... Communities like the Nanima Village in Wellington that I don't think have much of a voice. They don't have a school, a store doesn't exist anymore, they have limited road funding.
I would like to listen to those communities and listen to the needs of communities like that which have been forgotten. I don't have the answers but I know the people who are living this experience do."
Coulton: "On Sunday the 16th, regardless of the outcome, I think our community is quite bruised. This has brought out some of the worst in people. But one of my frustrations is this idea that nothing is happening and we need this to start things happening.
Right across my electorate we've got a good, strong community leadership and where I see that is where you get good outcomes. My belief is that we should be nurturing our communities for people that take leadership through the community"
Cowley: "I'm more invested in how we move forward from Sunday because either way things are a bit of a mess. This has created quite uncomfortable rifts in families and communities and friendships, but nationally, either way, there is a lot of work to be done."
Wells: "I can see great opportunities for us to get on with the job. What we're talking about is having local people with voices. That's my understanding, that it's local people that will be elected by Aboriginal people and there'll be plenty of governance and there will be plenty of systems in place."
Burns: "I can't tell the future but 10 or 11 people can't make decisions for 600 tribes, and that's what's left in the country. How can 10 people make the decisions for all those countries?"
Burns: "What unites Aboriginal people is the fact that we were all treated the same at first glance... I believe we're treated as second rate citizens."
Wells: "I agree with Lewis ... To this day if you go to a supermarket or into the shops they'll search you or you'll have to show your handbag and those things just don't go away. Unfortunately that's the society we live in.
Another thing aboriginal people have in common is our connection to land, water and rivers. Some people call us traditional owners but I prefer to say custodians because the land owns us, we don't own the land."
Coulton: "I can't comment on how I personally feel but that's one of the difficulties I have as a non-Aboriginal person representing Aboriginal people... There's no doubt that there is an element of racism in this community and I have seen it in the last couple of weeks."
Maraschio: "I can understand the view, it's the status quo. I don't like the status quo. The status quo sees Indigenous people go to more funerals and weddings. It sees people have family members locked up at a higher rate. It sees their children and grandchildren more than white folk about the status quo."
Coulton: "I see the value in voting 'Yes'. Australian people want to do the right thing by Aboriginal people and that's why I'm upset I've been put in this position, I think this could have been handled so much better and with bipartisan support we would have had a better result."
Wells: "I understand people's concerns and I understand that's likely because of a lack of knowing what's going to happen. But in my heart and hearts 'Yes' is the way to go."
Burns: "I'm trying to the best thing for my tribal area and I feel like that's my purpose... whatever the vote turns out to be we will all go forward."
Maraschio: "I've learned that I've learnt that the community can come together and have conversations with each other about things that they disagree with away from the sort of nasty comment sections at the bottom of youtube videos or Facebook posts or news articles."
Coulton: "The learning from this is that for a referendum to be successful you can't take shortcuts."
Cowley: "I've learned that there is a great deal of goodwill across Australia just to challenge that status quo. And I agree that the status quo is in no way acceptable. I have been concerned that some of the voices that have already been informing parliament are not being listened to because perhaps they come from the wrong side of the chamber."
Wells: "I've learned a couple of things, one is that time is important. I don't think we've had enough time to have good conversations around this process ... The second sad thing I've learned is that racism is still alive and thriving, I thought we were getting rid of it as a nation."
Burns: "I've learned that you can run a campaign that's good for the nation in poor ways."
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