The daughter of leading no campaigner Warren Mundine says her father’s public statements on the voice to parliament referendum have been hurtful and go against what she was raised to see as “morally right”.
Garigarra Riley-Mundine, 31, is one of Mundine’s children with his former wife, leading Indigenous educator Dr Lynette Riley. The couple were together more than 20 years and raised seven children before divorcing in 2008.
Riley-Mundine, who lives in Canberra with her husband and 10-month-old daughter, says she does not have “much of a relationship” with her father and has not spoken to him privately about her views. She said she was speaking out publicly as a strong supporter of the Indigenous voice to parliament, because her father’s comments on it have been hurtful.
“I came from a family where my grandfather was a staunch union man and we were raised in this way where we felt as a family that we had to do everything we could to make sure that future generations had it better than what we’ve got now,” said Riley-Mundine, who is Wiradjuri-Kamilaroi on her mother’s side and Bundjalung-Yuin on her father’s.
“And I’m seeing and hearing everything that my father is saying and – although he is entitled completely to his opinions – it really goes against what I feel is morally right and how I’ve been raised and the family that I come from.
“That is why I want to speak up now, because it’s something that’s incredibly important and we need more voices behind this to show our support for a voice.”
Mundine is a director of the no campaign and founder of Recognise A Better Way group opposing the voice.
At the National Press Club last week, Mundine called the Uluru statement from the heart a “symbolic declaration of war”. He described the voice as a “centralised overlord” and maintained “most Indigenous Australians are doing fine”.
Riley-Mundine said it hurt to hear those comments.
“It hurt because I feel that the Uluru statement came from a place of unity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she says.
“We’re not trying to take over anything; we are literally just asking for a voice. And we just want to unite this country, because when we are empowered and our communities are strengthened, then all of Australia is empowered and strengthened.”
Riley-Mundine said that as an Aboriginal woman and mother, she was concerned about the “fear campaign” being run by the no camp and her father’s role in it.
“The no campaign has a two-pronged approach and both of them are based in fear – fear that a voice to parliament will be too powerful, that giving Indigenous people a voice enshrined in the constitution will have negative consequences for the wider community [and] that this is just another way for the government to control Aboriginal people, take away our sovereignty – and that’s not what it is,” she said.
“I see the voice to parliament and the Uluru statement from the heart as an outstretched hand to say, ‘Help us help ourselves. We want to have a voice in our future and in the policies and programs that affect us.’”
She said it was also “hard to hear” Mundine defend a comedian who referred to traditional owners as “violent black men” at a conservative political action conference in August.
The CPAC conference, which Mundine chairs, hosted a range of speakers against the voice, including Gary Johns, who claimed some people in Indigenous communities lived in a “stupor” and recommended they “learn English”. Johns was followed by a “comic hoax speaker” who called traditional owners “violent black men” and Bennelong a “woman basher”.
At the Press Club, when asked about the comedy performance, Mundine said whether he agreed with the comments was “irrelevant” because the Indigenous voice referendum had “opened the door for those debates” and because comedians “have freedom to have comedy and make jokes”.
Riley-Mundine strongly disagrees with that view.
“I personally believe that racism is racism, no matter how you frame it,” she said. “[Mundine] surely must have been hurt by those words. I can’t imagine any black man that wouldn’t have been hurt by those words.
“I found it really hard to hear. As a black woman, obviously I feel strongly about these things no matter who my connections are, but being surrounded by strong black men who I love, my heart hurt hearing those words.”
Riley-Mundine said the referendum campaign has been damaging for Indigenous people’s mental health.
“My heart goes out to everyone that’s really struggling,” she said.
She believes a “yes vote would be healing” but healing will be needed regardless of the result.
“There have been a lot of divisive voices that have been lifted up in this referendum and I feel that as a nation, we have to go through a healing process after this. I draw connections to when we had the marriage equality vote – a lot of awful things were said and done during that time,” she said.
“In having a yes vote, we can show people that this is something from love and this is something from hope and that it’s nothing to be scared of.”
• This story was amended on 2 October 2023 to correct the year that Warren Mundine and Dr Lynette Riley divorced.