Nationals’ stance on Indigenous voice a ‘slap in the face to black people’, Aboriginal leader says

Laura Hand-Ross says party’s opposition to constitutional recognition is an ‘insult’ that has caused disquiet in the community

The National party’s decision to oppose to an Indigenous voice to parliament has been condemned by a prominent Deniliquin Aboriginal leader as “a slap in the face to black people”.

Laura Hand-Ross, a Wamba Wamba and Mutthi Mutthi woman and the chair of the Deniliquin Local Aboriginal Land Council, said the Nationals’ stance was an insult and had caused disquiet in the local community.

It’s a slap in the face to black people really because it really sends a message that we are not worth their vote,” said Hand-Ross, who is also a founding member of the Yarkuwa Indigenous Knowledge Centre.

“It’s an insult really.”

Her comments come after the New South Wales Nationals leader and state’s deputy premier, Paul Toole, told Guardian Australia that the party’s opposition to the voice was “a federal parliament decision”.

“The National party, in the state, have been more open-minded to talk to our communities to understand what directly their concerns might be or what they see as the main issues for any referendum going forward,” Toole said.

“We will ensure, which we always do in the state, to represent those views.”

Toole refused to be drawn on whether the NSW Nationals supported the voice.

Supporters argue that constitutional recognition through a voice to parliament would enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a seat at the table to provide advice to the parliament on policies and projects that affect their lives.

As an Aboriginal mother who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community, Hand-Ross said she knows the “lived experience around the obstacles that marginalised people face”.

“[The Nationals] are just giving blanket statements about not supporting a voice to parliament,” she said. “We don’t necessarily need them to say ‘we’re going to support it’. But an outright ‘no’ – that’s pretty harsh.”

On Saturday, the Edward River council mayor, Peta Betts, was preselected as the NSW Nationals candidate for the seat of Murray in the 2023 state election. In NSW, the percentage of First Nations people is above the national average.

Hand-Ross said she will speak directly to Betts, as an independent voter and member of the Indigenous community.

“She certainly needs to get a sense of the mood from the Aboriginal community” she said.

Murray was a stronghold for the NSW Nationals until 2019, when incumbent Austin Evans lost to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (SFF) party’s candidate Helen Dalton.

Dalton, who is now an independent after leaving the SFF this year, agreed voters have a right to know where their local members stand on the voice and said she was “not opposed”.

“It has been done successfully in other countries so surely we can do it here in Australia,” she said. “We have a long way to go to close the gap and I will certainly be giving this serious consideration.”

Hand-Ross, a health leader who has worked in clinical and managerial roles for Murrumbidgee Local Health District, said opposition to an Indigenous voice to parliament could worsen the discrimination, racism and inequality that Aboriginal people face.

“Unresolved trauma, grief and loss, disconnection from Country, language, and culture all play an inherent part in the wellness of our people,” she said. “That blanket rejection of the voice to parliament … is going to feed that unwellness in the community.”

The Country Liberal senator Jacinta Price, a Warlpiri woman who sits in the Nationals party room in federal parliament, spoke alongside Nationals leader David Littleproud last week as the party opposed the voice. She said the voice proposal would “divide us along lines of race”.

But Hand-Ross said Price does not speak for her or the people she considers her Elders – and “she never will”.

“She’s not from here. She doesn’t know my people.”

Betts was contacted by the Guardian Australia for a response on her position on the voice.


Fleur Connick

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
National party ‘out of touch’ with regional Australia on Indigenous voice, campaigner says
Thomas Mayor has spent 18 months travelling around the country speaking about the Uluru statement and says rural people agree with it

Calla Wahlquist

29, Nov, 2022 @2:52 AM

Article image
Personal conversations not party press conferences will guide regional Australians on an Indigenous voice
Organisers say rural voters are not ‘empty vessels to be filled with political speak’ by the Nationals, who plan to oppose the voice to parliament

Gabrielle Chan

03, Dec, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
‘They want to know how things work’: Pat Dodson buoyed up by first regional Victorian voice forum
Audience in regional city of Ballarat were largely supportive of the voice to parliament but were keen to hear more detail

Dellaram Vreeland

15, Mar, 2023 @10:20 PM

Article image
‘Changing people’s way of thinking’: the CWA members working for Indigenous recognition
The Country Women’s Association is finding ways to get Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women together to raise support for the Uluru statement

Fleur Connick

15, Oct, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
Nationals harden stance against Indigenous voice after receiving more detail on proposal
Party leader David Littleproud says there’s ‘no position where the Nats would change their minds’

Tamsin Rose and Josh Butler

09, Dec, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Why do the Nationals oppose the Indigenous voice and do their arguments stand up to scrutiny?
David Littleproud says the move would add more bureaucracy while Uluru campaigners believe it would mean practical improvements to lives

Lorena Allam

29, Nov, 2022 @4:44 AM

Article image
Dispute and walk-out over livestreaming dominate Deniliquin meet the candidates forum
Nationals contender Peta Betts said she did not consent to event being filmed ‘for another candidate’s own agenda’, labelling it as ‘propaganda’

Fleur Connick

16, Mar, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
How the wind blows in Walcha: a community divided over renewable energy
Farmers in New England are facing off against an unlikely alliance of the National party and conservationists

Tom Plevey

14, Mar, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Aboriginal cultural heritage protected as NSW rejects Glendell coalmine expansion
Wonnarua people want Ravensworth Homestead added to the state heritage register and to become a site of reconciliation

Sophie Nichols

28, Oct, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
The rhetoric around the Indigenous voice to parliament shows it’ll be a rough campaign
If this week was an indication of the level of the debate, then Australia is in for a torrid time when referendum process begins in earnest

Lorena Allam

02, Dec, 2022 @1:30 AM