8 OCTOBER 2022

What a privilege it was to welcome Senator Patrick Dodson, the Special Envoy for Reconciliation and Implementation of the Uluru Statement, to our screens for U3A Port Phillip’s very special Seniors’ Festival Saturday Seminar. As one of the three senior politicians making up Parliament’s Working Group on the Voice to Parliament Referendum, and a highly respected community member, Senator Dodson is uniquely placed to speak with knowledge, wisdom and authority on this hugely important issue. He did not disappoint.

Introduced by facilitator Rosemary Rule, the Co-Chair of Port Phillip Citizens for Reconciliation, as the Father of Reconciliation and a “national living treasure”, Senator Dodson set the context for the need for an Indigenous Voice. He gave us an informative and moving account of the history and experiences of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since colonisation in 1788.

He touched on topics such as the infamous doctrine of Terra Nullius and the successful Mabo judgement. He also talked about the 1967 referendum which voted to change the Constitution so that, like all other Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be counted as part of the population, and the Commonwealth would be able to make laws for them.

Now that the current government is actively committed to holding a referendum, Senator Dodson described this as a moment in our history that we can’t afford to pass up. “Wouldn’t it be a great thing in our country to exercise our vote for a Voice for First Nations peoples so that they can speak on behalf of themselves on policy?” he said, inviting all Australians to walk with the Aboriginal people to create their voice in the Constitution.

One interesting aspect of his talk, and the subject of a couple of questions from the audience, was the issue of the well-publicised opposition to a referendum by some of the other First Nations politicians. The Senator pointed out that all politicians of whatever background have to speak for, and represent, their constituents and their party, regardless of their personal views. He also described the need to update the Machinery Act, which governs the rules relating to referenda, as well as the overriding need to get agreement on the words in the referendum.

This was a highly informative, measured and thought-provoking seminar, spoken from the heart with clarity and impact, and is well worth tuning into if you were unable to hear it live.

For those of you interested in further discussions on this important topic, there will be a public forum on the Referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament presented by Port Phillip Citizens for Reconciliation in the St Kilda Town Hall at 6.30pm on Thursday 3 November 2022. Details are on their website:

A video of Senator Dodson’s talk is HERE.

Sheila Quairney
on behalf of Pam Caven, Seminar organiser

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