• Gamatj kids at the opening ceremony to Garma (Supplied)Source: Supplied
The themes of constitutional amendment for Indigenous Recognition, truth-telling and the Indigenous Voice to Parliament again predominated conversations at the Garma festival at Gulkula in East Arnhem Land on Saturday.
Jack Latimore, Rachael Hocking

4 Aug 2019 - 10:53 AM  UPDATED 4 Aug 2019 - 11:01 AM

In a full day of forums on the second day of the festival, Garma crowds heard notable addresses from the chief executive of the Yothu Yindi Foundation Denise Bowden, the independent member for Nhulunbuy, Yingia Mark Guyula, Cape York lawyer Noel Pearson, and Opposition leader Anthony Albanese.

The Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt also repeated his message about taking a considered, pragmatic approach in progressing constitutional reform and Indigenous representation, while at the festival’s Youth Forum young delegates workshopped the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

In a brief and rousing address, the chief executive officer of the Youth Yindi Foundation, Denise Bowden, spoke about the maladministration of government spending on Indigenous communities.

Ms Bowden said the Northern Territory government continued to mismanage tens of millions of dollars of received GST funds that were earmarked for spending on Aboriginal affairs and called on the federal government to intervene.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars of untied GST funds sent to State & Territory governments to address Aboriginal issues are diverted to other urban priorities, or are spent on administration in Darwin or other urban centres,” she said.

“Every year the NT Government grants up to $20 million to the Darwin Waterfront Corporation to run a conference centre and tourist facilities including a wave pool & an artificial beach & events like fireworks, concerts and driverless cars.

“Forgetting the hundreds of millions in capital costs, that's an annual payment equivalent to 40 remote houses a year so local Darwinians and people visiting Darwin can enjoy themselves … We understand the importance of tourism to the economy but meanwhile in the bush the housing crisis continues, 

“Indigenous people are living lives characterised by poverty and neglect and despair.”

Ms Bowden said the Commonwealth was “dining out on the back of Aboriginal misery” by allowing the NorthernTerritory government to continue with its “high-level maladministration” of the “rivers of gold” channeled to the NT Treasury through the federal government’s GST-distribution formula.

“If the Northern Territory Government was a corporation, serious thought would have to be given to winding it up,” said Ms Bowden.

“If it was an Aboriginal Corporation its Cabinet ministers would be prosecuted.”


Oppositional leader Anthony Albanese emphasised the need for an entrenched Indigenous Voice to parliament, a notable point of difference in position to what The Australian newspaper has previously reported to that of the prime minister. 

Mr Albanese said the federal parliament needed to do more than an Aboriginal acknowledgement.

“With a Voice in place, there can be truth-telling, and there can be Makaratta,” he said.

“It is a desire the Uluru Statement from the Heart delivers in fourteen words of unadorned power: ‘We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in The Constitution.’

“Makaratta. That great Yolngu word must resound through the land. So much is encompassed within its four syllables: conflict resolution, making peace after a dispute, justice, the path to treaty,” he said.

Mr Albanese said it was also clear to him that an Indigenous Voice in the Constitution was critical to progress not only on Makaratta but on the next steps towards Treaty.

“The Voice is the bedrock upon which we must build,” he said.

“I am encouraged by the tentative moves towards constitutional change by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Ken Wyatt. I hope he gets the support he needs and deserves from his colleagues.”

Ken Wyatt reiterated the need for a pragmatic approach forward on the Voice, noting that many within his own party remained opposed to the proposition.

In a speech that echoed an impromptu media conference on Friday, Mr Wyatt said he was optimistic that the Voice proposal would succeed in winning over the support of a majority through the conversations he was having with Indigenous leaders, corporate companies and within his own party room.

“People will continue to put forward propositions and models and I am not shutting my mind to those because we have to keep an open mind in the final result we achieve,” he said.

"We are not being listened to"

The Independent member for Nuhlunbuy, Yingiya Mark Guyula, spoke about being locked-out of participating in key political discussions in the Territory and said he wondered what all the talk of a Voice really meant on a community and regional level particularly as he was elected by his people to represent their interests.

“I am the first Independent member for Nuhlunbuy and I am the first Yolgnu member for Nuhlunbuy,” he said.

“All of the good work and good actions should have meant that I was treated with respect and that people should be knocking on my door to work with them. Instead, I find out about laws to be passed in the NT parliament after they have already been drafted, and briefed on policies that have already been implemented. I am listened to politely by ministers and their advisors during meetings only for my words to have little effect on things that have already been decided long before talking to me.

“I was not invited to the NT Treaty meetings or included in the NT Treaty working groups. When all Aboriginal members of the parliament were included in a committee for Aboriginal affairs I was told, ‘No, That is only for the government members, but then they invited Aboriginal leaders across the NT.

“I had to fight hard just to be able to use my own language in the parliament… to use my language equally. I had to fight and am still fighting to have my voice heard, to bring the voice of my people to the parliament.

“Before this event my office wrote to the leader of the opposition and to the minister for Indigenous Australians and I asked them for a meeting while they were here. Both of their offices wrote back to me to say they were too busy to meet with me.

“I am a member for the parliament. I understand how busy schedules can get for a member and for a minister and I know they are only here for a short time, and I hope we may meet in the future.

“But I am a Yolgnu member… I am a senior Elder, a Songman. I speak for my people. My voice should count. I should be heard and I should be listened to. It should be my door that is being knocked on. It should not be me knocking on doors and having them closed on me.

“This frustration I have in cabinet is symbolic of what is happening more broadly in Aboriginal communities. We are not being listened to.”

Developing support

Speaking exclusively with NITV News, Noel Pearson said the minister for Indigenous Australians had a difficult job ahead of him and needed to be allowed the room and time to manoeuvre members within his party towards supporting a Voice and constitutional recognition.

“As long as pragmatism doesn’t mean that we’re expected to just accept some kind of symbolism out of this. I think he is approaching it on the basis that politics within the government could evolve,” said Mr Pearson.

“Ken is in the hot seat and I think we do owe it to him to give him a chance to develop support and understand within his own party: understanding that a whole swag of new politicians are in the house and particularly on the government’s side.

“These are people who have had no exposure whatsoever to constitutional recognition or Indigenous issues and there’s a process of getting them up to speed.”

“Uluru called for Voice, Treaty, Truth. In order to set up proper Treaty negotiations we need a representative voice. And we need a representative voice that is well anchored in the constitution, where it can’t be dismissed, where it has the status, and it has to be publicly funded.

“The infrastructure of the voice down through at the local and regional level is crucial. We need to take control of our own affairs and we need a better interface with government. What has happened since the demise of ATSIC is that all of this massive Indigenous affairs expenditure is not going through Aboriginal organisations.

“There’s been a colonisation of Indigenous affairs since the demise of ATSIC. Lots of money is spent in our people’s names but they don’t go through Aboriginal organisations and Aboriginal communities. And we’re not seeing the (needed) outcomes. We’re not seeing the gains.

“We need a better organisational infrastructure at the local and regional levels across the country that allows communities to deal on a more level playing field with governments.”

“… Ken Wyatt should focus on regional and community level legislation that enables our people to negotiate directly with the governments these funding arrangements and the programs that go into the communities and start to reverse the colonisation of our funding programs by non-indigenous organisations.”

Discussions around the proposals within the Uluru Statement from the Heart continued at the Youth Forum, where hundreds of young people pass through over the three day festival.

On Saturday, AIME Mentoring hosted a Statement From the Heart workshop where the young delegates wrote about the issues that matter to them and their communities. The Youth Forum Statement will be presented to the broader Festival on Monday morning, with hopes to take it to Canberra in the near future. 

Outside of drafting their vision for the country, the Youth Forum delegates have been busy participating in traditional dyeing workshops, learning the basics of TV with ABC Behind the News (BTN) team, and creating art and music.

Indigenous Voice dominates conversation on opening day of Garma
The Minister for Indigenous Australian's says, a careful pragmatic approach is needed for the Voice to Parliament and recognition, but senior leaders urge the Coalition to move swiftly.