Instead of lifting indigenous Australians, the Voice referendum, to be held this Saturday, October 14, will divide Australians and "keep us that way".
This was one of the warnings issued by former politician and First Nations people advocate Nyunggai Warren Mundine in his speech to the Pastoralists and Graziers' Association of WA (PGA) annual convention at Crown Perth last Thursday.
Reflecting on his experiences as a young indigenous man growing up in Grafton, New South Wales, in the 1950s, Mr Mundine said over the past six decades there had been a complete turnaround in the societal position of Aboriginals in Australia, in respect to their daily life, opportunities, laws that govern them and the attitude of other Australians.
He said three defining moments that led to this shift had been the 1967 referendum, in which Australians overwhelmingly voted to remove racial segregation from the Constitution so everyone was equal under the law; the introduction of land rights and native title which provided Aboriginal people with the opportunity to use land as an economic asset; and the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in 2005.
Established by former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1990, ATSIC was a body through which indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were formally involved in the processes of government.
Including both a political and service delivery arm, Mr Mundine said most Aboriginals were "very disengaged" from the political arm, with the average voter turnout below 25 per cent.
Mr Mundine said when the body was eventually abolished by the Howard government, it resulted in Aboriginal advocates and leadership being split into two camps.
"One camp, which I'm in and Jacinta Price (senator for the Northern Territory) is in, understood that Aboriginals could not depend on governments," Mr Mundine said.
"True self determination does not require the government to give you anything.
"It's about getting educated, getting a job, starting businesses, owning a home and using land rights as an economic asset and a springboard to financial independence.
"What the other camp continues to focus on is government dependency.
"For the past 20 years this camp has been trying to find the blame to reinstate an ATSIC type model, centralised top down and segregated."
Providing an alternative to the Voice, Mr Mundine offered a four step plan of "accountability, education, economic participation and social change" to help those Aboriginal Australians who are struggling.
Highlighting the 2014 Forrest Review, which included 27 recommendations aimed at creating parity between indigenous and other Australians, Mr Mundine said if Aboriginals were educated to the same level as other Australians, there would be no disparity, as it would open up their job and career opportunities.
"Just imagine if every indigenous child went to school every school day," he said.
Pointing to the economic participation of Aboriginal Australians in our modern society, Mr Mundine said he knew of no group of people in the world that had escaped poverty without economic participation.
"It's not rocket science," Mr Mundine said.
In terms of social change, he said it was vital that the nation stopped "turning a blind eye" to some of the destructive behavior in some indigenous communities.
"These are not complicated ideas, but they require political will," Mr Mundine said.
In his scathing review of the Voice, Mr Mundine said the Yes campaign had been "built on a pack of lies", including a "false" belief that indigenous people aren't listened to by our country's law and decision makers.
"It's the very opposite," Mr Mundine said.
"Indigenous people have many voices and many opportunities to be heard.
"Hundreds of indigenous organisations are immersed in policy making affecting indigenous Australians - hundreds more lobby and speak to governments all the time."
Highlighting that there are more indigenous parliamentarians today than ever before, Mr Mundine said there was no door in Canberra that wasn't "wide open" to Aboriginal Australians and the Voice wouldn't help those Aboriginals living in remote communities trapped in welfare dependency.
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