Today, the 1965 Freedom Riders made this medai statement endorsing the Voice to Parliament.
1965 Freedom Riders: We’re voting YES to the Voice – for Charlie Perkins
As young Sydney University students, we took part in the Freedom Ride of February 1965 through northern NSW country towns, led by the legendary Aboriginal activist Charles (Charlie) Perkins.
We call on Australians to vote YES in Saturday’s Referendum as another step forward in the long journey towards justice and equality for Australia’s First Peoples. It brings us closer to achieving that Australian national aspiration, ‘A fair go for all’.
It has been a long, winding, dusty, corrugated road towards that goal. In those NSW towns of 1965, we encountered blatant discrimination against Aboriginal people simply because they were Aboriginal. How many Australians today know that an Aboriginal ex-serviceman who had fought for Australia in World War II was denied entry to the Walgett RSL club? Or that Aboriginal children were denied entry to the Moree swimming pool? Or that Aboriginal people in Bowraville were forced to sit in the first few rows of the cinema, separated by a wooden dividing partition? And in that and other towns, denied entry to the local pubs?
Today such blatant discrimination is not as common as it was then, although it still occurs all too often. But the difficulty we have had as a nation in “closing the gap” indicates clearly that we are not yet the land of a fair go for all.
The Voice was requested in 2017 by the most representative gathering of Indigenous people in decades held at Uluru. They wanted something practical and effective, a measure that would help the nation make good decisions. They wanted a Voice – not a decision-making body or even a veto, simply a voice to provide advice and opinions to the Parliament that does make the decisions.
Those of us who took part in the Freedom Ride were a microcosm of students at the time: across several faculties and a wide diversity of views and beliefs – Christians, humanists, socialists and conservatives of various kinds – even a member of the Country Party, forerunner of today’s Nationals. Though our politics differed, we were united in our opposition to racism and discrimination, and in our commitment to do something about it.
The Voice we believe will help promote unity. We believe that Australians – across our many spectrums of politics, faith, ethnicity, gender, occupations and regions – can unite around the simple proposition to recognise Australia’s First Peoples in our Constitution through enshrining their right to a Voice.
We do not presume to speak for Charlie Perkins, who left us 23 years ago. But Charlie was always a passionate voice for his people, and he knew how vital it was that Indigenous Australians had a voice to speak for them. As some of those who had the privilege to accompany him on the Freedom Ride all those many years ago, we will be voting YES in his honour.
We call on all Australians who want our nation to take that further step forwards towards justice and fairness to join us and vote YES.
Gary Williams Jim Spigelman Ann Curthoys Aidan Foy Pat Healy
Brian Aarons Beth Hansen Alec Mills Chris Page Warwick Richards
12 October 2023
Media Contact: Brian Aarons M: 0400 585 008 [email protected]