First Nations advocate Thomas Mayo has urged not-for-profit leaders to encourage a “yes” vote for a Voice to Parliament.
He made the plea directly to several hundred community leaders just hours after a coalition of social sector chief executives pledged their support and agreed to campaign in favour of the change.
Mayo was delivering the latest Institute of Community Directors Australia lecture as part of the Rethinking the Community Sector series.
Mayo is no stranger to activism, having carried the original 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart canvas with its 250 signatures – including his own – across the country to spread news of that call to action.
He described the “tears of joy and hope” that fell when Indigenous representatives from across the country stood to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart and constitutional change to provide the recognition that has been lacking for more than two centuries, despite many broken promises.
Despite attempts by Voice opponents to confuse Australians with arguments about “a lack of detail”, in fact the change was a very simple proposition, Mayo said.
“The referendum is only about enshrining the principle that Indigenous people should have a voice.”
He said all countries similar to Australia, such as New Zealand and Canada, had already constitutionally recognised their First Nations people. And while the Voice would not give Indigenous groups any power to make or block legislation, it would mean they could less easily be dismissed, silenced, or ignored.
“Advisory doesn't mean powerless [but gives] influence over the decisions that are made about housing, about justice, about how funding is spent in our communities and how it reaches the people that need it, about education and employment. Influence … through representatives that Indigenous people choose, not the Parliament, or a corporation, is a very powerful thing in a democracy.”
He said not-for-profit leaders had a responsibility to support the yes vote, despite the fact that the politics “could be difficult for some of you to manage”, because the end result would “enhance our democracy”.
“I would like you to try to convince the people in your organisation to unequivocally support the yes campaign, because this is something that should go beyond politics.
“This is urgent. If we lose this referendum, there won't be another opportunity for generations.
“The sky will not fall in the day after doing this. There’s everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
Mayo is a Torres Strait Islander man born on Larrakia country in Darwin. He is the author of four books and is the Maritime Union of Australia’s national Indigenous officer.
More great speeches and performances from First Nations leaders: The late Jack Charles | Stan Grant | Eleanor Bourke | Pat Turner | Ziggy Ramo | Prof Helen Milroy | Kutcha Edwards | Benny Walker | Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody | Kerry Arabena | Mick Dodson | Chris Sarra