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Indigenous leaders are divided over the wording of a joint statement following the Voice referendum defeat, with several objecting to the tone of a draft open letter, which lays blame for the loss on the Coalition and is critical of No voters.
The draft document, intended as the first collective response of Indigenous leaders supporting the Yes campaign after declaring a week of silence following the referendum defeat last Saturday, lays bare the grief and pain among the Yes campaign group and the broader Indigenous community.
The Voice had 60 per cent public support at the start of the year, but the Yes campaign comprehensively lost the referendum.Credit: Justin McManus
It says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were “hurting and bewildered by what they feel is the viciousness of the repudiation of our peoples and rejection of our efforts to pursue reconciliation in good faith”.
“The truth is that the majority of Australians have committed a shameful act whether knowingly or not, and there is nothing positive to be interpreted from it. Only the shameless could say there is no shame in this outcome,” the statement says.
The document, dated October 20, a leaked copy of which has been obtained by this masthead, is the latest in a series of draft versions circulated among about 50 Indigenous people and organisations, including those associated with the Yes 23 and Uluru Dialogue campaigns.
Opponents of the Voice rallied around the slogan: “If you don’t know, vote No.”Credit: Trevor Collens
The document says it is “the collective insights and views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, community members and organisations who supported the Yes Campaign”.
The draft statement signalled a pathway forward, saying Indigenous leaders would seek to amend the Uluru Statement from the Heart “to remove the aim of enshrining a First Nations Voice in the Constitution”.
But it says they remained committed to its principles of Voice, Treaty, Truth, and would pursue other options for establishing a representative body for Indigenous Australians.
“We want to talk with our people and our supporters about establishing – independent of the Constitution or legislation – an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to take up the cause of justice for our people,” the draft statement says.
The statement says the referendum was “doomed from the time the National Party and then the Liberal Party said they would oppose it and bipartisanship was lost”.
“Mr [David] Littleproud, Mr [Peter] Dutton and the political parties they lead are responsible for this result.”
It is unclear who has written the statement or who would endorse it, but multiple sources confirmed to this masthead that, after the draft was circulated on an email chain on Friday, several Indigenous leaders declined to be part of it, saying they disagreed with the tone and some of the points made.
Those who objected included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar, co-chairman of Queensland’s Interim Truth and Treaty Body Mick Gooda, and Coalition of the Peaks lead convener Pat Turner. They were contacted for comment.
The draft document also expressed gratitude for the millions of Australians who voted Yes.
“We have faith that the upswelling of support through this referendum has ignited a fire for many to walk with us on our journey towards healing and justice. Our truths have been silenced for too long,” it said.
But it said rejection by non-Indigenous Australians “who came to our country in only the last 235 years” was “so appalling and mean-spirited as to be utterly unbelievable a week later”.
It praises Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s “gallantry in the campaign” but is critical of his “attempted exculpation of those who voted No”, and takes aim at Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk “and other such cynics who lifted not one finger to support the campaign”.
The document is addressed to the prime minister and “every Member of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Commonwealth Parliament” and states that it will be circulated to the Australian public and media. Sources close to the Yes campaign were briefing media during the week that the statement was expected to be circulated this weekend, but its status was unclear on Saturday evening.
It accuses leading Indigenous No campaigners Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Warren Nyunggai Mundine, and Liberal senator Kerrynne Liddle of being “front people” for the organisations who led the No Campaign’s success.
It further states that Price’s entry to parliament as senator “was decisive to the abandonment of bipartisanship”.
The language is similar to that used by Cape York leader Noel Pearson when last year he accused Price of being trapped in a “redneck celebrity vortex” and being used by right-wing think tanks to “punch down on other black fellas”. Price rejected the claims at the time as “belittling” and “bullying”. Pearson was contacted for comment.
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