Referendum result a motivator for treaty push

Thane Garvey was heartbroken after the referendum result was announced. Pictures: SUPPLIED.

By Mikayla van Loon

Despite conversations about the referendum dying down since the vote count came back with a resounding no, for one young Indigenous leader it has fuelled the fire to make change.

Healesville based Indigenous educator Thane Garvey said although he “was already planning for the worst” the result was still “heartbreaking”.

“We all knew that that was probably what was going to happen. We still had some hope though that it could get across the line at the last minute but unfortunately, it probably ended up doing the opposite and going in the other direction even more at the last minute,” he said.

“It was heartbreaking, it sucks. When it comes to these kinds of things, it does leave a bit of an imprint on the Indigenous community, especially the communities that had seven or eight years of involvement in developing the Uluru Statement of the Heart.”

After doing all the groundwork on supporting the Indigenous Voice to Parliament and “then to see the first step of it fail”, Thane said it was “pretty heartbreaking for all of us”.

Even more so, Thane said it was disheartening to see and hear the bipartisan support for treaty in Queensland was withdrawn after The Voice vote and hopes it doesn’t impact other treaty processes around the country.

“It shows the government’s not really interested in doing what’s morally right, really just what the majority of people want,” he said.

“I don’t even think the vote represents a racist Australia or an Australia that doesn’t want to acknowledge or embrace Indigenous people, I think it just shows how gullible we are more than anything else.

“It just shows we don’t really have the education around policy and legislation and governance in general, politics, education around Indigenous Affairs, all these things we’re lacking in.”

But not giving up hope on making statewide, if not countrywide, progress Thane said “we have got other options and there’s plenty to look forward to”.

“We’ve just got to forget about the voice for now and moving forward, we’ve just got to focus on treaty.

“Hopefully we can get treaty across the line and then we can start working towards other things like maybe land rights, to do that we’ve got to start working on scrapping Native Title and trying to get land rights back.

“We can work towards making sure our kids that are 10 years old, aren’t locked up. 80 per cent of 10 year olds in Australia that are locked up are Indigenous.”

The First People’s Assembly of Victoria has been the backing in the discussion of treaty since being established in 2018 and Thane said “they’re doing a lot of good things”.

“They’ve been acting as a voice to parliament for the last few years really anyway talking for Indigenous people in Victoria.

“I think they will get it across the line, I just hope it’s done in a way that’s right. That’s such a difficult thing, what’s right? Some mobs have different views than others and we’re going to have to sit down at the table and have a big discussion. It’s got to be done.”

For Thane, The Voice would have been a great way to solidify the momentum that has been building over many years to recognise and acknowledge First Nations culture and said now is the chance to push for more.

“We’ve got to get some type of legislation put in place. Legislation that can’t be messed with or tampered with, unless we want it tampered with.

“That’s got to happen soon because it’s getting to the point now where we’ve built this big momentum up starting back when William Barak died in 1903 and then NAIDOC march started 1921, January 26.

“Then after that, people like William Cooper coming through and referendums, and then you have [Eddie] Mabo and all these amazing people that have just built on, built on, like Cathy Freeman, and they just keep this momentum going. Briggs and Lydia Thorpe coming through today, and I don’t want that to fall off now.

“I feel like if something doesn’t happen in the next 10 to 20 years, something that can really solidify that shift people start to get a bit like ‘we’ve heard it before’.”

One thing Thane said could help support the discussion of treaty nationally is the voices of other indigenous peoples from around the world where treaty has been worked into policy.

“As Indigenous Australians, we need to start branching out to our brothers and sisters over in New Zealand and all these other countries all over the planet, all these different places that managed to get treaty across the line,

“Even in America, they have some of the best treaties out there. We need to get these people to shame Australia for not doing this because it’s pretty obvious that governments in Australia really look up to a lot of the bigger governments and big countries, some of our biggest allies, like America, for instance.”

Advocacy and education, Thane said, are the two biggest modes of changing perceptions, outside normal circles and communities.

“We’ve got to start working now to make sure we can have people thinking in a way that is educated and in a way that accepts Indigenous people in Australia.

“If we can do that, then hopefully some of these big decisions that get made on a nationwide scale…start to favor Indigenous people slightly.”

Motivated to make change and keep the momentum going after the referendum, Thane said time didn’t stop after the vote – it only got started.

“As soon as the referendum failed the work started. It’s only a number of days, the countdown started from then, the countdown until we have another election or referendum or legislation or we have another vote to get an indigenous minister in or whatever it might be.

“It doesn’t matter what it is. At some point there’s going to be more votes coming towards policy and legislation that’s going to shape the way that we live.”