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NT Correspondent Joins 3KND Team

Matthew Bonson is a Gurindji, Jawyon and Torres Strait Islander who has over twenty years extensive management and policy experience in government, justice, and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations. Matt is a graduate of Charles Darwin University Law School and Sydney University School of Medicine. Matt has joined the 3KND team as a Specialist Journalist Correspondent representing the N.T….

Topics covered will be the recent referendum and The Uluru Statement.

Historically, referendums in Australia haven’t had a good record of passing. In the 122 years since its Federation, Australia has had 44 referendums on constitutional amendments. Only eight have been successful—including a 1967 vote to no longer exclude Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the nation’s official population, which saw 90.77% of votes in favor, making it one of the most successful national campaigns in Australia’s history.

“The Australian public is highly conservative when it comes to constitutional amendment,” says Strangio. “History shows that proposals for constitutional change are virtually doomed if they lack bipartisan support.”

Campaigners for the Voice argue that the opposition successfully stoked negative perception. “I think the no campaign has run a very effective campaign,” says Paula Gerber, a law professor at Monash University. “They have relied on fear and people’s emotions and being scared of change.”

Those against the Voice, including opposition leader Peter Dutton of the Liberal Party and Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, charged that details about the proposed body’s composition and scope of powers were scant, and that constitutionally enshrining the Voice would sow division among Australians. They also argued against redundancy, saying that there already are bodies catering to indigenous residents, and an additional institution would only bloat government operating costs.

But beyond the logistical arguments, a fog of falsehoods spread online, too. Conspiracy theories—such as that the Voice would raise taxes and strip Australians of their homes, that the election was rigged, that the law would only cater to the indigenous elite, or even that the Voice would be the first step toward the U.N. invading Australia—proliferated the internet.

Dani Linder, a Bundjalung, Kungarakany woman and law lecturer at the University of Queensland in Australia, tells TIME that efforts by proponents to educate the masses were dampened by the disinformation.

“It’s been one struggle to just sort of educate people and get them up to scratch as to what’s going on,” says Linder. “It’s been another issue entirely to correct the disinformation that’s been spread out after we’ve tried to inform voters, and we’ve put a lot of work and time and effort and money into that.”

Makarrata Commission The Uluru Statement seeks ‘a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history’.

Makarrata is a word from the language of the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land. As Noel Pearson has explained: The Yolngu concept of Makarrata captures the idea of two parties coming together after a struggle, healing the divisions of the past. It is about acknowledging that something has been done wrong, and it seeks to make things right.

The word ‘Makarrata’ has often been used instead of ‘treaty’, and gained wider currency in the 1980s when the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC) adopted the word. In a letter from the National Aboriginal Conference Secretariat ‘to all Aboriginal Organizations’ Jim Hagan (the then chairman of the NAC) wrote ‘using the word Makarrata makes it clear this is intended to be an agreement within Australia, between Australians’.

The call for a treaty has existed for some time. The Barunga Statement, presented in 1988 to Prime Minister Bob Hawke, called for a treaty with the Commonwealth of Australia. In response, Bob Hawke promised to negotiate a treaty ‘between the Aboriginal people and the Government on behalf of all the people of Australia’ before the end of the current session of Parliament. Though it did not eventuate, calls for a treaty have persisted. A Makarrata Commission would likely be tasked with seeking Makarrata agreements between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the federal government.


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