A Q & A with Aunty Di Langham

Reverend Aunty Di Langham is the Director of Reconciliation for the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle. She is a passionate advocate for the rights of First Nations peoples. She is using her own voice to advocate for The Voice to Parliament.

Aunty Di spoke to Encounter from Awabakal Lands.

What would an Indigenous Voice to Parliament mean?

An Indigenous voice would allow us to tell the government what we, as a people, want to happen for ourselves. It would be our voice not somebody thinking about what they could do to help us, which is what’s been happening since 1788. There has always been people or committees that are not Indigenous who make decisions about what should happen to us.

Why do we need it?

We need it because the Closing the Gap statistics recently are pretty horrendous, and nothing is happening. We need to be able to have a voice, we have never had a voice. The voice will go into the constitution which means that we will finally be recognised as the First Nations people in Australia.

Since 1877, we’ve not been recognised in the constitution at all. In 1967 I was counted in the Census in Australia as an Aboriginal person but before that I wasn’t.

Australia knew how many sheep there were in Australia but had no idea how many Aboriginal people were here.

Since 1967 not a real lot has changed for Aboriginal people and I think that’s why it’s come up now, The Voice. If we have a voice in parliament, if we have a voice in the constitution, it’ll be bi-partisan so nobody can wipe it out.

If the referendum succeeds, what do you hope positively changes?

We will have a council that Aboriginal people themselves can approach and then the council will take it to the government. For me it’ll make me feel as though I have a voice. I could write a letter to say Minister for Indigenous Affairs Linda Burney and say: This is what is happening, what do you think we could do about it? They would make some decisions and recommendations that would then go to the government. As it is now, I can write a letter to the government, and nothing happens. For us, it will be accountability to the government.

What is The Voice?

This year, Australians will take part in a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution. This will be in the form of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

According to the Australian Government, The Voice is designed to be an independent, representative advisory body for First Nations people.

It will provide a permanent means to advise the Australian Parliament and Government on the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples on matters that affect them.

What sort of response have you received when you speak about the importance of The Voice?

All over the place. Most people are not au fait with what’s going on and of course they are hearing another voice too that is coming out of the Aboriginal community which is talking about Treaty. So, people are saying: “Well, what do you really want?”

We do want Treaty but that’s not going to happen until there is a voice in the constitution. You can’t have a Treaty when you are not even recognised in the constitution as being Australia’s First Nations people.

We haven’t got sovereignty. When we’ve got sovereignty then we can apply for a Treaty. Racism is alive and well today.

There has got to be some changes and it’s got to be that Aboriginal people are respected and I think they will be respected if they have a voice in the constitution.

Will this change if The Voice is successful?

Don’t forget that there’s been over 230 years of this rubbish happening. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. I’m quite of the understanding that it’s going to take decades.

The Voice, I hope happens in my lifetime, but for the change to happen in the culture of Australia I don’t think that’s going to happen overnight.

Once we start to address racism, once we start to address that it needs to be changed then I think things will change. I will feel like I have put my things forward and somebody’s listening. At the moment, I don’t feel like anybody is listening.

For people who are undecided about how they will vote in the referendum, what would you say to them?

I would tell them that they need to vote “yes”. They need to make the first steps into making changes to the constitution. We need to be recognised in the constitution. Australia needs to understand that there is a whole culture that has been here for 60,000 years.

The Voice will benefit all Australians. Education will change into understanding what has happened to Aboriginal people. The frontier wars and all those things will be part of our history. When I went to school, we learnt all about the Indian wars. I knew all the names of the chiefs.

No one here in Australia knows who our chiefs were. They don’t know who the people were that fought for this country. Once we do this, we will have a better Australia. We need to get out of the colonial picture and become a people altogether, all of us working together. That’s what’s got to happen.

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