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

A key campaigner for the yes vote says the National party is “out of touch” with regional Australia after the party announced it would not support a referendum on the Indigenous voice to parliament.

The Torres Strait Islander man Thomas Mayor spent 18 months travelling around Australia speaking to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people about the Uluru statement and the proposal for a voice, addressing large crowds in cities and small groups in country halls.

“The Nationals are really out of touch with the people that they purport to represent,” he said. “I have travelled to many rural areas, not just Indigenous communities but speaking in country halls in small towns, farming towns, and the simple fact is when you explain this to people in a way that is clear and simple people are not threatened by it. They agree with it.”

The Nationals leader, David Littleproud, announced on Monday that his party would not support the referendum because “we don’t believe this will genuinely close the gap”.

Littleproud said Australians should “hear those voices from regional, rural and remote Australia, not just those that might be in Redfern”.

Mayor said it was disingenuous to suggest that support for the referendum was concentrated among First Nations people living in cities.

The Uluru statement was signed at Mutitjulu on Anangu country in the Northern Territory. It has the support of all Aboriginal land councils and Aboriginal community-controlled health services, all of which work in regional and remote areas. Most of the signatures on the statement – and there are hundreds – are of First Nations people who live in and represent regional and remote areas.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous to suggest there’s not support,” Mayor said. “You just need to look at the signatures on the Uluru statement, read the names there. Sure there might be one or two from Redfern but it’s most certainly a higher percentage from regional areas.”

He said the Nationals appeared to be heavily relying on the views of one person, the Warlpiri senator Jacinta Price, and that had given the party a skewed picture – exactly the problem the voice was designed to resolve.

“This is about political parties and governments not just choosing who they want to listen to and instead having a real structure and a representative body that they have to speak with,” he said.

Polling conducted for Guardian Australia by Essential in August found that a majority of Australians living in rural and regional areas support the idea of a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice to parliament despite not having heard much about it. In rural areas, 69% of respondents said they had heard hardly anything to nothing at all about the voice, but based on what they had heard, 57% said they would support it. In regional areas, support was at 66%.

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council, which represents 28,000 people spread across 120 local Aboriginal land councils, most of which are in rural, regional, and remote areas, said it was disappointed in the National party’s position.

“We do find it ironic that non-Aboriginal people have no problem in determining what is right for Aboriginal people and how Aboriginal people wish to be represented,” chair Danny Chapman, a Walbunga man, said. “Comments linking the voice with Closing the Gap are also confusing. They are not mutually exclusive.”

Local governments in regional areas have also put their support behind the campaign: Queensland’s 77 councils, 66 of which cover regional and remote areas, passed a motion affirming their support for the Uluru statement in 2019, and in 2022 reaffirmed that motion and pledged to “engage with the State and Federal governments, Indigenous leaders and organisations to develop communication materials to support an informed vote at the proposed referendum”.

The 2019 motion was brought by Cherbourg Aboriginal shire council, which is in the LNP-held electorate of Wide Bay.

In March, a majority of local governments in New South Wales backed a motion put forward by Byron Bay shire to “support the Statement from the Heart’s call for Indigenous constitutional recognition through a Voice and that a referendum is held in the next term of federal parliament to achieve it”.

The Country Women’s Association of NSW is expected to vote on a similar motion at its conference in March 2023, after a push from some branches to support the reform.

Mayor said the decision not to support the referendum was more likely to hurt the standing of the National party in regional areas than impact the success of the voice.

“We will prove them wrong,” he said. “We will win the referendum. We will be in their communities, talking to people about it.”


Calla Wahlquist

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

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
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

Fleur Connick

07, Dec, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
No campaign against Indigenous voice criticised for using ‘really dehumanising’ language
Tamworth event was attended by Pauline Hanson, Barnaby Joyce, Alan Jones and former Labor minister

Tom Plevey

03, Apr, 2023 @3:00 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
By choosing to share a stage with One Nation, Barnaby Joyce invited division into his community
The National party has framed its opposition to the voice to parliament as wanting practical outcomes over symbolism. But can it escape the symbolism of being on stage next to Pauline Hanson?

Gabrielle Chan

04, Apr, 2023 @2:28 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
‘If I had to vote right now I’d abstain’: Tamworth residents call for details on the voice
Locals say a no campaign event last week did not represent the regional NSW community, but many aren’t ready to commit to voting yes

Tom Plevey

06, Apr, 2023 @3:00 PM

Article image
Remote Indigenous community pioneers 3D-printed homes set to change rural lives
Traditional owners of Mparntwe collaborate with Melbourne company Luyten to combat housing shortages and improve Ilpeye Ilpeye residents’ lifestyle

Maddie Thomas

02, Nov, 2022 @2:00 PM