Uncle Bunja Smith says he wants "to see a permanent voice to parliament so we may be able to close the gap”.
Uncle Bunja is asking people to find out about The Voice referendum coming up on October 14th, dodge the misinformation flying about, and join the Yes campaign.
43 climate organisations and groups representing a movement of over two million Australians signed a public letter supporting YES to the Voice. Hear this statement.
Guest: Uncle Bunja Smith is a recognized Walbanga Elder in his community of the greater Yuin nation, on the south coast of New South Wales. He is involved in a lot of things that happen in his community, especially aged and home care for Aboriginal people.
Djaarmby Band is from the Yuin nation on the south coast of NSW and Canberra. The new song, "Five Tribes', written by Darren Rix on guitar and vocals, Warren Saunders on base and didge, Goo Cee playing guitar, drums by Richard Ploog. Djaarmby Band is launching an EP soon.
Statement from Climate Groups and list of supporting groups:
Uluru statement from the heart:
We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
Proposed addition to the Constitution:
In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:
(i) there shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
(ii) the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
(iii) the Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.
Transcript of Earth Matters #1417
Uncle Bunja Smith " A vote for Yes is a vote for hope and opportunity".
43 Climate Movement groups agree.
Rebecca: Welcome to Earth Matters, environmental justice stories from Australia &and around the world. This story was produced on the land of the Walbunja people of the Yuin nation supported by radio 3CR on Wurundjeri Country, in Melbourne, and broadcast across this continent via the Community Radio Network. Hello, I’m the show host Bec Horridge. I pay my respects to the elders, past, present, and emerging.
Uncle Bunja: I think:
“A vote for Yes is a vote for hope and opportunity, whereas a vote for NO just gives me more of the same, so you wanna be in the tent or you wanna be outside the tent throwing rocks throwing rocks at it? The choice is yours.” Id rather be in the tent and change the system from the inside”
Rebecca: That’s today’s guest Walbunja Elder with Uncle Bunja Smith. He wants to see a permanent voice to parliament so we might be able to close the gap.
Rebecca: Here we are in Yuin country with Uncle Bunja Smith. Jamaka bumbalaga!
Uncle Bunja: Jamaka bumbalaga! Rebecca
And we’re looking over Bhundoo, which is The Clyde River, it’s actually known as one of the least polluted waterways of any major river in Australia. Welcome to Earth Matters, Uncle Bunja Smith.
Thank you. Thank you so much, Rebecca. And yes, the Bhundoo, while it is recognised as one of the least polluted rivers, I noticed it change, the cycle of life was affected in the bushfires. The bushfires actually cleared a lot of land at the top of the river and then following the bushfires, we had heavy rain and all that soil had to go somewhere. So, it washed down the river. It affected the oysters; it affected the fish.
I hadn’t seen any porpoises or dolphins in the Bundhoo for quite a while since the bushfires and it was only approximately two weeks ago that I saw dolphins swimming at Caseys Beach. So, I can say from that that life is returning but it was heavily affected by the bushfires and the following rains.
Uncle Bunja Smith has a lifetime of experience working with Aboriginal people and the whole community and he’s been speaking around Yuin country, the South Coast area, asking people to become informed, at least about what the Voice is. Let’s dive in, Uncle, and could you just tell me a bit about the Voice?
The history is that since the Gough Whitlam government, we have had a voice to parliament in the form of an advisory body in one way, shape or form and the issue with that is that every time we had a change of government, we have a change of advisory. It started with the NACC, the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, under Gough Whitlam.
Then when Malcolm Fraser took over, he changed it and it became the NAC, the National Aboriginal Congress. Then the NAC, under the Hawke government, was abolished and a couple of years later, Hawke established ATSIC.
So, it appears that every time we get a change of government, as I said, we get a change of advisory and Aboriginal people are getting tired of this because it’s not working. Probably because one reason is that they throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think advisories are good and necessary but when you continually change it for your own benefit, not the people’s benefit, then it’s derogatory, it doesn’t work for us.
Now, what’s happened is in and around 2016, 2017, there was a movement from the people around the Redfern Statement and there was also movement from government, wondering or questioning how can we get Aboriginal people into the constitution? And if you remember, John Howard wanted to put us in the preamble.
So, going way back to then, there has been discussions around putting Aboriginal people in the constitution and what does it look like? How will we do it? And a group of 250 Aboriginal leaders at the time were gathered, paid for by the government to go to Uluru and have a constitutional convention. That’s what they were there for. They were there to discuss how to get Aboriginal people into the constitution.
Now, whenever you get a large crowd of anybody together, it’s very hard to get consensus because everyone is going to be a different opinion. Some will like blue, some will like green, some will like yellow and that’s what makes us rich is that we have all these different opinions, ideas and it’s how to work together.
So after gathering for quite a few days and discussing quite a lot of things, including treaty, they came up with a one page document called the Uluru Statement and that’s where it was born from. From a constitutional convention at Uluru in 2017 and it was given, presented as a gift for all of Australia. It suggested three things. It called for truth telling. It called for Makarrata, and it also called for a voice to parliament enshrined in the constitution.
So, I wasn’t amongst them, and a lot of people weren’t. There were only 250 representatives of Aboriginal people from all around Australia. So that’s a reasonable representation of Aboriginal people and this is what they came up with was the Uluru Statement.
Now, just because I didn’t write a Sally Morgan book doesn’t mean that I don’t love it, doesn’t mean that I don’t love the writing. I had nothing to do with the Uluru Statement but I’ve adopted it. I love it. It’s a love letter from Aboriginal people to the broader Australian community. It is saying we want to work with you to make everything better for everyone and, in particular, Aboriginal people. We want the truth to be told.
So that is the history and the genesis of where we have come to and now remember that was 2017 and the government at the time was Malcolm Turnbull. His government funded that trip to Uluru and then when they came back with the Uluru Statement, he said, “Thank you very much” and he shelved it. He didn’t want to do anything with it. It was too much for him. He said, “The people will never vote yes for a referendum” and then Malcolm Turnbull handed over – well, he got taken over. He got taken over by Scott Morrison and again Scott Morrison didn’t want anything to do with the Uluru Statement.
So we had an election not so long ago and one of the platforms that the Labor government stood on was that they would act on the Uluru Statement. Now, there’s three parts to it and when you look at it, the most sensible part for me is a voice because with a voice, we can start the truth telling and we can navigate the complex road to treaty. But you must start with communication. You must start with a voice.
So Anthony Albanese said that he would act on it and he has done that. He has now called a referendum of the people of Australia to ask should a voice to parliament be instilled in the constitution? Now, if you have a look at the ballot paper, that is proposed ballot paper, that’s all it’s asking people. “Yes or no, do you want a voice to parliament?” Have a look at it, it’s on the Voice website, OK.
And that’s the question that you’re being asked to vote yes or no on. But also on the website, you will see how the constitution will be changed. Now, all it is doing is instilling a voice, a voice to parliament. It’s not putting me in the constitution, it’s putting a voice in the constitution. So it’s a very interesting thing to look at and I encourage people to do that, to have a good look at what’s being proposed and fact check everything for themselves.
Dad always told me, he said, “Son,” he said, “Believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you see.” And that’s what people have got to do. They’ve got to do a little bit of research to get to the truth of this matter. Sadly, there’s a lot of mistruths and ugliness happening around encouraging people that this is a bad thing. No, I don’t believe it’s a bad thing.
Remember that when you look at it, it is not Aboriginal people being put in the constitution, it’s an Aboriginal voice that will be put in the constitution and I think that’s a good thing because as a start, you must have a dialogue. You must have an avenue of communication. That’s a voice. So, it’s a great place to start. I don’t think it’s perfect but I think it’s the step, the right step in the right direction.
Now, it gets a little bit more complex, Rebecca. The Voice, while permanent in the constitution, the make-up, the model can always be changed by successive governments because they will have the power of what the Voice looks like. But they must have a voice.
So, it’s caused a lot of consternation and a lot of anger, a lot of resentment, a lot of confusion, but the sadness for me is that it’s also thrown a spotlight on racism in Australia. On Facebook recently there was a post that said, “First comes the Voice, then comes the invoice.” It wasn’t so much that comment that worried me, it was the comments from the people underneath on Facebook.
One of them from a lady said, “We should charge them for using our” – actually quote, “We should invoice them for using our infrastructure.” Then someone replied to her, “Yes, maybe they will go back and live in bark huts.” This is out there and this is truth. So that’s what saddens me is that it has got down to that level of ugliness. It’s a Voice to parliament that I believe will be a communication road and the government of the day does not have to take the Voice’s advice. It does not have a veto power.
So, some people are saying – some Aboriginal people are saying, “Well, it’s a white elephant. If they don’t have to take the advice, what’s the good of it?” Well, I think something is better than nothing. I think a vote for yes is a vote for hope and opportunity, whereas a vote for no just gives me more of the same. So, do you want to be in the tent or you want to be outside the tent, throwing rocks at it? The choice is yours. I’d rather be in the tent and change the system from the inside.
Rebecca: Uncle Bunja Smith, I’m so grateful that you’ve come to talk to me and everybody here at Earth Matters. There’s a lot more I could learn and I’m hoping so much to have you and your friends on the show later in the year. Walawaani.
Uncle Bunja: Walawaani, Rebecca and, look, thank you so much and yes, I’ve actually had a long history with 3CR. Going back to the 80s, I was a student of Koori College in Northcote, we had the radio show on 3CR way back then.
Uncle Bunja: The Aboriginal program and I was a part of that. So 3CR has a special place in my heart and I say my respects to the elders and tribes people of the local area, and I thank you for having me on the show. Go well. In my language, Walawaani means safe journey. So Walawaani all my brothers and sisters out there. Take care and care for Mother Earth.
The Australian climate movement has thrown its support behind writing Yes to the voice. 43 climate organisations and groups representing a movement of over two million Australians, who are into a healthy climate and thriving envirionment and are rooted in the values of justice and fairness signed a public letter supporting YES to the Voice. Here is the statement they endorsed. These groups include World Wildlife Fund, Oxfam, Getup, Greenpeace, Climate Council Australian Parents for Climate Action, the Australia Institute, Tipping Point and so many other groups are supporting the Yes vote on Oct 14.
Id like to read you the statement they recently put out.
The Australian Climate Movement Supports Writing Yes to the Voice
Australia is home to the oldest continuous culture on Earth. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been caring for Country for millennia. First Nations people are the first scientists and leaders in nature restoration, land management and climate solutions. We stand together as leaders representing a movement of over two million Australians whose commitment to a healthy climate and thriving environment is rooted in the shared values of justice, equality, and fairness.
Australians are being asked to vote in a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution and establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. We wholeheartedly support writing YES in this referendum. By writing YES, we support a pathway for meaningful, transformative change. This referendum calls upon us to reflect upon our colonial history and envision a future where First Nations justice, truth-telling and Treaty help us move towards a brighter future, together.
We know what it takes to demand ambitious change and challenge entrenched systems. We lead movements that bravely challenge the status quo. The Australian climate movement has stood up to vested interest groups attempting to impede meaningful action on climate change in this country. These same political culture wars are now attempting to fuel racism and divide us. Our support for writing YES is based on the fundamental principle that laws and policies are more effective when those who are affected by them have a voice.
We firmly believe in demanding substantive change rather than mere symbolism, and we view this referendum as a step in the right direction. History has shown us that previous representative bodies for First Nations peoples have been dismantled by the government of the day at will.
By writing YES in the referendum, Australians everywhere can establish a permanent representative body that boldly advocates for the needs and aspirations of First Nations people.
Recognising and respecting the knowledge, cultures, stories, and languages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will help us move forward from our past and progress together towards a brighter future. First Nations communities are at the front line of climate impacts in this country.
There is no climate justice without First Nations justice. By ensuring that First Nations communities are represented in shaping national policies, we can achieve better health, environment, and climate outcomes.
We encourage all Australians to listen with an open heart and mind through this historic moment. Together we share a vision for the future as a nation that values justice, equity and fairness for all people. Together, let us write YES.
And that is the statement endorsed by 43 climate groups, some of the biggest groups and some of the most effective groups.
Find online details about the Voice at voice.gov.au
Youve been listening to Earth Matters, community radios national environment and justice programme. I’m Bec Horridge. If you have missed any of today’s show you can find our podcasts at 3cr.org.au/earthmatters
Earth Matters would like to thank the Community Broadcasting Foundation for their financial support and the Community Radio Network for all their hard work in broadcasting today’s episode. Earth Matters is produced at 3CR Community Radio on Warungari Country in Fitzroy Melbourne. If you want to get in contact, you can send us an email at
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That’s all for now but tune in next week for more Earth Matters.
The music on the show is the unreleased track Five Tribes by songwriter Darren Rix. Darren Rix is a Gunnai- Kurnai man, the nephew of Archy Roach. Warren Saunders is Gungarri Elder from west of Toowoomba on bass guitar and Didge. Goo Cee is playing lead guitar. That lilting drumbeat is Richard Ploog, former drummer for The Church. Djaarmby Band is releasing a five track Ep soon. You can find two other tracks written by Warren Saunders: Wallaby Wombat and Lover Lee on Bandcamp