One of the nation’s most respected Indigenous leaders has made a rare public appearance to issue a last-minute ‘yes’ vote plea.
Labor senator Pat Dodson, who is known as the father of reconciliation for his prolonged advocacy, has been undergoing cancer treatment and has been largely absent during the debate in the lead-up to Saturday’s referendum.
But in an address to the National Press Club, Senator Dodson said there was nothing to fear from the proposed constitutional change.
“We need to have change, we need to have an effective voice to the parliament, we need to have recognition as the first peoples,” he said on Wednesday.
“You can’t live in your own country and not be recognised.
“Are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people going to be at the table or pick up the crumbs as we have been for the last 200 years?”
Senator Dodson said Australians would have to deal with the consequences of the poll long after the campaign ends, arguing it would determine what the country stood for.
“Do you want to look at yourself and have pride the next day, or have some doubts and uncertainties and even an increase in shame?” he said.
The WA senator, who also acts as the government’s special envoy for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, said reconciliation would look as it is now, should the ‘yes’ vote fail.
But he said there would be a “huge healing process” to come, regardless of the referendum’s outcome.
“It’s the challenge of the Australian people to find common ground with the Aboriginal people. It’s a two-way street. This is not a one-way street here,” he said.
“We’ve been trying to heal this nation for a fairly long time.”
While polls have shown the ‘yes’ campaign behind, Senator Dodson said he would wait for the outcome of the vote.
“There’s only good to come out of this, there’s a vision to come out of this and hope to come out of this. The truth of our integrity as a nation is what is at stake here,” he said.
His appearance came on the same day marathon runner and ex-MP Pat Farmer reached Uluru after a trek of more than 14,000km over six months in support of the voice.
The former Liberal MP choked back tears as he described the final stages in reaching the spiritual heart of the country.
Mr Farmer has run more than a marathon a day since April in support of the voice, going across the country to spread the message about the constitutional change.
“When I first got my glimpse of Uluru, it looked an almost purplish colour from a distance,” he told reporters.
“It brought a tear to my eye and a realisation that this journey was finally coming to an end.”
Mr Farmer was met at Uluru by members of the Central Land Council and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was also present at the start of the run in Hobart.
Central Land Council chief executive Les Turner thanked Mr Farmer for his epic commitment and said a ‘no’ vote would maintain a system that was not working for Indigenous people.
“In terms of central Australia, we have 28 of our communities under water stress or no potable, palatable water,” he said.
“We have a lack of schooling and education facilities in our communities.
“Sometimes we have no health services, no nurses, no doctors.”
‘No’ campaigner Warren Mundine rejected suggestions reconciliation with Indigenous Australians would not be possible should the referendum fail.
“Australia has been moving along (for) reconciliation for 20, 30 years at least,” he told ABC Radio.
“This is one thing that has come out which is positive … ‘yes’ and ‘no’ people want things to be reconciled.”