“Censorship by Omission”: Megan Krakouer on the Suppression of Black Opposition to the Voice

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Aboriginal self determination

For anyone who’s been paying attention, it comes as no surprise that there’s a strong First Nations resistance to the Indigenous Voice to parliament that began as the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which contains the proposal, was being unveiled at the May 2017 Referendum Council.

The mainstream media narrative, however, has presented societywide support for the establishment of the body that would be comprised of a recommended 24 First Nations representatives, providing parliament with advice on how to act on matters that affect Indigenous peoples.

According to the nightly news, the only opposition to it is coming from the Coalition: the recalcitrant Nationals and some ultraconservative Liberals. And this has involved arguments asserting it would be an all too powerful third chamber of parliament or undemocratic in its focus on the Indigenous.

So, when this year’s Invasion Day protests saw grassroots First Nations peoples gather across the continent to express opposition to the coming Voice referendum in preference for treaty-making, it seemed to come out of nowhere, and the resulting media coverage again downplayed this.

Opposing voices coverage

Gumbaynggirr academic Professor Gary Foley told 7 am in January that whilst the Voice is being spruiked as groundbreaking, Aboriginal advisory bodies to government have been repeatedly established over his lifetime only to then be abolished, with no real progress being made.

While Jumbunna Institute senior researcher Paddy Gibson has just penned a piece, outlining that the Voice grew out of former PM John Howard’s 2007 proposal to recognise First Nations in the Constitution: a symbolic gesture that would do nothing to advance Aboriginal self-determination.

Since the coming of the Albanese government last May, with its prioritisation of the Voice, Senator Lidia Thorpe has been the most prominent First Nations individual opposing the body, asserting that as it will have no actual power, it will do nothing to promote Indigenous advancement.

Indeed, Thorpe and others consider recognition in the Constitution will relegate First Nations to a subservient position in relation to Australia and its asserted sovereignty over this continent, which then may threaten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty, which has never been ceded.

Treaty before Voice

Menang Noongar woman Megan Krakouer is the director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, and the legal professional is also a member of the Levitt Robinson Class Action Team against the Banksia Hill juvenile detention centre and the WA government.

Just announced as City of Perth Citizen of the Year 2023, Krakouer has been speaking out about the inadequacy of the Voice proposal as a means to achieve progress for Aboriginal people, and she’s also questioning the suppression of opposing voices in the mainstream debate.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Krakouer about white voices dominating a discussion that should be led by Black voices, that there’s a wealth of First Nations people opposing the proposal and how she considers the advisory body wouldn’t achieve the significant reform that’s needed.

National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project director Megan Krakouer
National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project director Megan Krakouer

Right now, the country is racing towards a referendum on enshrining an Indigenous voice to parliament in the Constitution. And according to the mainstream narrative, it would appear that everyone in the country, besides the Coalition, are in favour of it.

However, nationwide Invasion Day protests painted another picture. And you’ve expressed reservations about the Voice.

Megan, how do you consider this proposed advisory body that’s being spruiked as leading to First Nations empowerment?

We’re racing once again to the bottom of the barrel. We are being sold symbolisms and the one-way road to assimilation.

I cast growing doubts that the majority of my First Nations peoples are supportive of the oppressor’s reductionist Voice – a white oppressor’s stylised Voice, not a genuine diverse Black creationist Voice.

The Voice has been sized up by some well-meaning and some not so well-meaning crafters – by some white apologists and self-centred mouthpieces and on-sold by government-sponsored media campaigns.

It breaks my heart to see my long-suffering peoples short-changed, hoodwinked by what are also distraction politics.

Politicians rant bigtime relentlessly about symbolisms while the impoverishment of half the First Nations population is entrenched as if permanent.

Parliament is an ungodly beast, even at its best, and the Voice may turn into another of its demons, lying to another generation of my peoples of the promise of change, and by the time it is exposed as toothless, the world record high incarceration of my peoples, the record high suicides and child removals will be even higher.

The Voice in a way is like a Pied Piper’s call.

The Voice will disempower more of our peoples than empower. It will pit more of our people against each other – exactly the oppressor’s sadistic contrivance.

White angels will appear with promises of litigation. Fighting for monies over years and decades in the oppressor’s courts, is still no more than beggary.

White angels are not romanticists of Black rights but scoundrel exploiters. There are few true allies who fight alongside us with clear and rightmindedness.

So far, the essence of this Voice is white noise, saying “blah blah…” and little else.

You’ve also raised the point that debate around the issue seems to be suppressed. There are lots of reports expressing approval for the Voice, however there’s not a lot to the contrary.

Indeed, much of the coverage of the grassroots First Nations protests on 26 January downplayed the prominent rejection of the Voice proposal those actions involved.

How do you consider what’s going on with the stifling of debate?

No, there are reports too of majority disapproval. But they’re not being included, censorship by omission.

There are also the thousands of my people I mix with. The general consensus is it is more of white Australia’s blah blah.

This is the general view of the impoverished and marginalised Black fella the oppressor betrays daily.

We must face the ugly truths to bring about change and not sanitise at the oppressor’s behest.

Half my people nationally are left behind and still will be so, after I am gone from this world. This will still be the truth even with the Voice enshrined constitutionally.

It will still be the case even after all the truth-telling is exhausted, after any or all treaties are sealed with the invaders.

It breaks my heart, the unseen fights I and my colleagues put up to stop children being removed by the all-knowing so-called protection authorities – by the invader.

Our people will continue to comprise more than a third of the prisoner population, and by the time I am on my deathbed, my people will be one in two prisoners.

We can celebrate symbolic measures and the levers of power within them – Voice, Truth-Telling Commissions, Treaties – which will claim success we never truly see, which cannot ensure the greater universal good so tragically overdue.

We talk about Black excellence. These are the invader’s words – throughout the world – subsuming many of us to presume we can inch along to “equality”.

The Voice, in effect, will be the oppressor’s mealymouthed words, like Black excellence, while simultaneously forgetting Black suffering.

I see only Black suffering. My people die by suicide at the world’s highest rate, are jailed at the world’s highest rate, our children are removed at among the world’s highest rates.

This is what I will keep repeating till my last words, till real changes. I will never celebrate symbolisms.

I will never not speak out because if I don’t then, I dance to the oppressor’s tune.

We must stop this selling the idea of all eyes on Black excellence, hiding the suffering. We need to see some white excellence – of the type that helps end Black suffering.

Senator Lidia Thorpe is the most prominent First Nations person advocating against the Voice. However, she’s under attack for doing so.

What are your thoughts on how Thorpe is being treated in speaking up?

Lidia is exercising her convictions and her beliefs. We need more of this, not less.

We need heart on soul by as many of our First Nations people speaking out all their truths and not kowtowing.

Many also stay silent because they do not believe in the oppressor, who has many of the haves among us trampling over each other for titles, dollars and awards, self-centredness.

While the have nots among us fight just to live another day.

I will give Anthony Albanese some advice: “You’re a white man. Stay out of the debate on the Voice. Stop explaining it, stop prematurely selling it. Stop stifling your party’s own Black voices.”

“You have Black voices in the ALP – let Burney, Dodson, McCarthy and Scrymgour do all the ALP’s talking on the Voice – that would be an imperative first step in the right direction.”

The Greens were so pathetic in this regard that Thorpe had to leave them so as not to be oppressed.

Shame on both the white ALP and the white Greens. They are both showing their true colours.

A danger in speaking out in opposition to the Voice is that one can be considered to be in agreement with the Coalition argument against it. But these two positions are very different.

What are your thoughts on grassroots First Nations arguments against the Voice being blurred with those of the conservative side of mainstream politics?

You see, this is a dangerously diabolic setting, used time immemorially. The oppressors should have no bid within the formative dialogue.

It has to be a pure Black dialogue and hash – nowhere should there be white mob front and centre or in back rooms ruminating to us and serenading us. We are not sock puppets, nor should ever be.

There’s a noble place for allies but not anywhere in this unfinished debate where Black fellas are being rained on by white voices – look at Albanese, Bandt and Dutton betray from the start, as per usual, Black self-determination.

We also do not need cowardly media fawning all over one side or another of who among the Black voices makes them look in sync with so-called right side of history narratives.

All this is evidence that the bullshit will continue with an enshrined Voice in the Constitution if it gets up.

Whilst the Voice might not be the vehicle to facilitate Aboriginal advancement, its being suggested that it will.

But in terms of progress for this continent’s First Peoples, what do you consider needs to be most urgently addressed?

What I’ve stated again and again. Reduce suicidality, gaoling and child removals. Spend like never before on improving the lives of our marginalised.

All focus must be on the have nots. All solutions must be restorative, not punitive. If I say more here, then I too will be guilty of reducing focus on the have nots.

And lastly, Megan, in regard to delivering on First Nations self-determination what path do you consider needs to be taken?

First up, white leaders, like Albanese, Bandt and Dutton, need to shut up and leave the foundations of the ways forward to us.

Wait for us to self-determine what we believe serves us. Then we can all talk.

Let us some day celebrate a harmonious nation where the roads are paved to humanness, equality, universalisms and diversities.

Let the oppressor learn to step back. Anything less is a slur on our ancestors and on us today, the descendants of the First Peoples, as is the demand that the only road to equality is still assimilation.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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