Indigenous journalist Ben Abbatangelo says if the Voice referendum failed, it has to “be regenerative for us” and lead to greater change.

“Recognising us as peoples, for me, is nothing,” the Gunaikurnai and Wotjobaluk writer told Monday night’s Q+A panel discussion, broadcast from the Garma Festival in the Northern Territory.

Most of the program’s discussion was centred around the upcoming Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum, getting opinions from a range of Indigenous panellists at Australia’s largest Indigenous gathering.

Audience member Grant asked the panel if an advisory body like the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) could be established should the Voice referendum fail.

Host Dan Bourchier threw the matter over to Mr Abbatangelo, who said if the Voice fails, another advisory body was not the answer.

“I think (we should) not lessen ourselves for an advisory body but pursue something that gives us our rights – that is self-government, self-determination and something that will be able to sustain us and ensure that we have institutions that will be able and ensure that we have institutions of knowing, being and doing,” he said.

He said a No vote would not be the end.

“We must, as a collective, say goodbye to reconciliation and usher in an era of reckoning and move away from this doctrine of recognition and move towards a rights-based agenda, which is what we are absolutely deserving on,” Mr Abbatangelo said.

“There’s a lot of doom about the No (case) to this, but I think there’s also a lot of power in stepping away, and I think the No leaves a clean canvas.”

Joining Mr Abbatangelo on the panel were Malarndirri McCarthy, Marcia Langton, Merrki Ganambarr-Stubbs, and Taylah Gray.

Prof Langton, a co-author of the Voice, agreed that an advisory body was not enough, but urged a yes vote and said there was misunderstanding about what treaty means.

“‘Voice, treaty, truth’ doesn’t just refer to what people imagine treaties to be, but also to the entire agreement-making process,” she said.

Senator McCarthy, assistant minister for Indigenous Australians, was asked about why Prime Minister Anthony Albanese didn’t announce a date for the referendum at Garma.

Senator McCarthy said it had always been the Prime Minister’s intention to “make the decision between October and December.”

“I think it’s important that we acknowledge that while Garma is an incredible gathering place for so many people here, there are still so many First Nations people and people across the country that need to be reached,” Ms McCarthy said.

Asked her preferred date, she said: “I reckon the earlier the better, Prime Minister,” noting many people living in Australia’s north would have difficulty getting to the polls in the encroaching wet season.


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By Rahul

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