Barkindji lawyer Gemma McKinnon has been travelling across the Far West, visiting, and talking to communities from Walgett to Broken Hill about the Voice to Parliament. The Silver City was her final stop, meeting with a crowd of citizens on Friday afternoon, answering questions around what the referendum means for First Nations people.
Ms McKinnon, who was a Technical Advisor at the Referendum Council’s regional dialogues and the Constitutional Convention at Uluru, reinforced the importance of the proposed amendment to the Constitution to be representative of, and elected and accountable to First Nations communities.
“I think the clearest message has just been that people are really grateful when people actually come out to small communities and give people the time to actually inform themselves about what they’re being asked to do and to talk a bit about how it might work on the ground and how it might improve in the areas that are priorities for communities out here,” Ms McKinnon said.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there and there’s a lot of reliance on social media and other forms of information where people aren’t able to scrutinise what’s being told to them and they’re not able to ask clarifying questions. It’s important for people to have that face-to-face opportunity to hear what’s going on.”
Within her profession as a Responsible Business Manager, Ms McKinnon understands the crucial need to cut through information from different sources that aren’t necessarily fact-checked and to play a role in creating clarity for people by explaining things in a way that’s easy for everyone to understand.
“I think because the Parliament has to pass the act that enables us to have a referendum and there is such strong support from it from the current government, it’s inevitable that people are going to start thinking about it as a political issue. And certainly, when the opposition then oppose the proposal, that further politicises the discussion,” she says.
“I was involved in the Referendum Council dialogues that led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and that process was unprecedented in its form and in the amount of people that were involved and was a very detailed deliberative process. It’s definitely an idea that has come from community, not from politicians and not from political parties.
“This is the most recent in over 100 years’ worth of calls for some form of representation for First Nations people and the ability to have a certain amount of self-determination and to speak on issues that affect them. From William Cooper to today, the ask isn’t really much different – it’s just our turn to carry the torch.”
The Voice to Parliament referendum is set for Saturday, October 14, with early voting opening from Tuesday, October 3.