FREMANTLE council is poised to support the Yes campaign for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, backed by $35,000 of ratepayer funds.
The council’s finance and policy committee on Wednesday voted to work with Yes campaigners to deliver a range of “grassroots” education programs in the lead-up to the referendum, which prime minister Anthony Albanese has indicated will be held between October and December this year.
The council has floated a pro-Yes installation at its Local History Centre, “community kitchen table conversations”, a panel presentation and a communication campaign, with mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge saying the final details would have to wait until the “imminent” appointment of a WA coordinator for the Yes campaign.
“I think what we intended for this would be to follow through on our commitment to the Uluru Statement… and to identify some ways that at a very grassroots level we could get involved in the campaign,” Ms Fitzhardinge told the chamber.
The mayor said the City’s reconciliation advisory group and its “very active and engaged” Indigenous community had given a “very clear instruction and request” to make the Voice referendum a priority.
“It’s very hard to ignore those calls.
“For those who would criticise this as being not our business, you’ve got to look to our community, and our community very much on two levels is deeply engaged in this, whether it’s Aborginal people for who this is a key moment in history, but also our broader community who actively want to be involved any way they can to improve reconciliation in Australia and recognition in Australia,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.
Councillor Marija Vujcic was one of those to argue it wasn’t council business, saying that spending ratepayer funds on a “one-sided argument” was a breach of councillors’ oath.
“We only want to have a conversation with ourselves, multiplied around the city and suburbs,” Cr Vujcic said.
“It is self-evident that you can’t have a meaningful conversation with yourself; it is an act that can still get you certified as medically unfit.
“We are bound to represent all ratepayers.
“This motion divides Australians and seeks to promote the victimhood narrative.”
Cr Vujcic said that in the 2021 census, 812,000 people identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders (3.2 per cent of the total population) and they were supported by $14.7 billion worth of programs such as Medicare, social security, childcare payment, Abstudy and specific health programs.
She also listed a number of trailblazing Indigenous parliamentarians and Noongar colonial activist Fanny Balbik Yooreel.
“Just think about the courage of Fanny standing up and the subsequent generations who have reached the highest office in our country; this deserves a huge celebration.
“This data is about heroes, not victimhood.
“We will continue to add Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices to Parliament, and our processes show democracy works.”
Ms Fitzhardinge later told the Herald differing points of view would get aired.
think we are looking at doing a polemic and telling people what to think, it’s about having a discussion and providing a way for people to ask how this might help Close the Gap or how it might bring about the signing of a treaty,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.
Councillor Rachel Pemberton said she may try to get the $35,000 increased when the item comes before the full council for endorsement later this month.
“As the person who moved the motion in 2018 to support the Voice to Parliament, I am very proud of this council for having taken that position, and particularly so early when it was still quite controversial and misunderstood.
“I like the fact that we are putting some money into having an informed conversation with our community about this.”
by STEVE GRANT