Performers at the Garma Festival
This year's Garma Festival has been dominated by discussions on the Indigenous Voice to parliament. Image by Aaron Bunch/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Garma Indigenous leaders urge Voice unity

Aaron Bunch July 31, 2022

A day after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s historic Voice to parliament speech at the Garma Festival, Indigenous leaders have started planning the next steps in their push for reconciliation.

Indigenous Australians and Uluru Statement campaigners must come together with a clear strategy for moving forward, Uphold and Recognise chair Sean Gordon told the festival in Arnhem Land on Sunday.

They also need to consult same-sex marriage and republic campaigners for advice about raising awareness and funds ahead of a referendum on a Voice.

“It needs to be a clear, co-ordinated strategy and a way forward otherwise we won’t have the success that we would like to think we’re going to have,” he told a forum on the festival’s third day.

Mr Gordon estimated the yes campaign would need about $20 million, saying much of that would need to come from non-Indigenous Australians, who make up 97 per cent of the population. 

“We now have to do that as Indigenous people and if we can’t, this thing’s dead in the water,” he said.

Former Liberal candidate and ALP national president Warren Mundine said a strong narrative was needed to bring people along on the journey.

He lauded the prime minister’s speech, saying “you could not argue with some of the words”.

But he warned that not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders supported the Voice plan.

“I want something where the countrymen have their voice. I’m not convinced about (Mr Albanese’s recommendations). We could do this with legislation. Why do we need to have it in the Constitution?” he said.

Mr Mundine also wants to know how the proposed Voice would help Indigenous people reach the Closing the Gap targets.

He pleaded for the coming debate not to “descend to the margins where you’ve got people abusing people”.

“You don’t want to bully people from either side. It’s about a conversation otherwise it defeats the purpose,” he said.

Uluru Statement from the Heart leader Geoff Scott said the movement would like the referendum held as soon as possible to capitalise on the “enormous” goodwill built in recent months.

“We’re ready and waiting. The real challenge is getting enough information for people to form their opinion,” he said.

“In terms of timing, maybe late next year but the prime minister was smart not to nominate a date.

“He’s still got to provide a level of information that gives comfort so that Australia supports this.”

Meanwhile, justice advocate Leanne Liddle has called out the failings of the NT’s justice system, saying systemic racism had fuelled poverty and, in turn, offending rates. 

She said in 2021, 86 per cent of adults and nearly 100 per cent of juveniles in detention in the NT were Aboriginal.

“We only make up 31 per cent of the NT’s total population,” the Aboriginal Justice Unit director said.

She said more funding to fully implement the NT’s Aboriginal Justice Agreement would help reduce imprisonment rates by providing offenders with alternatives to custody, such as on-country rehabilitation.

Racism in government agencies and other service providers will also be targeted, along with law reform.

Garma is a four-day celebration of the Yolngu people’s culture that provides the government, corporate and non-profit sectors an opportunity to engage with Indigenous people.

The festival forum on Sunday also discussed the benefits of community-led health programs and Indigenous business development in remote areas.