By Brittany Chain, Political Correspondent For Daily Mail Australia
21:24 25 Jun 2023, updated 21:24 25 Jun 2023
- Jacinta Nampijinpa Price exposes Voice issues
- Senator warns: ‘we’re talking about a patriarchal society here’
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price learned from her mother at an early age that not all cultural obligations fit neatly within a modern society.
At just 13 years of age Bess Price was promised to a man within her community and told she must become his second wife.
But she had rebellious streak even then and resisted ‘enough to have the opportunity to live her life on her terms’.
She went on to serve in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, becoming an outspoken and well-respected advocate for her community.
‘I think I get a bit of that [rebelliousness] from her,’ she says.
‘She was expected to live with her big sister and take on an apprenticeship as a wife, essentially.’ Bess convinced her father otherwise, and she continued her education.
In a wide ranging interview with Daily Mail Australia, the opposition spokeswoman for Indigenous affairs, Nationals senator and leader of the No campaign against the Voice to Parliament revealed why there were issues with the government’s pitch that many well-meaning Aussies might not recognise on the surface.
Her primary concern – shared with many Australians – is the lack of clarity about just what such an advisory body would be able to make representations on.
When Minister for Indigenous Affairs Linda Burney insisted matters as close to home for Aboriginal people as Australia Day wouldn’t be in the remit of the Voice, Ms Nampijinpa Price had her doubts.
‘She cannot say that,’ Ms Nampijinpa Price said.
‘Everything is in play. Unless there is a specific list that is pre-determined by parliament that are no-go areas, right now nothing is off the table.’
But there is also a fear that well-meaning politicians may not know the weight of their words when they make references to an advisory body which is ‘culturally informed’.
‘There is no real detail about what being culturally informed actually looks like,’ Ms Nampijinpa Price warns.
‘There are elements of traditional culture that don’t recognise equality between men and women.
‘When it comes to decision-making, we’re talking about a patriarchal society here in a lot of instances.’
Ms Nampijinpa Price knows the impact of this all too well. She says a lot of her family still ‘live within the confines of traditional culture’.
‘When there are cultural obligations like young girls being promised in marriage – my mother was 13 – payback which is often violent, punishments for premature death or illness which is often thought to have been caused through sorcery.
‘There are so many elements that concern me.’
Bess Price avoided a fate some women still face in traditional communities today. She would go on to marry a man who later became violent, and met Ms Nampijinpa’s father, David, when she was 19.
David said in 2012: ‘She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid eyes on. But what really attracted me to her was her emotional toughness, her courage and her fair-mindedness.’
Ms Nampijinpa Price acknowledges the Government’s promise to deliver gender balance in any advisory body which would be formed on the back of a Yes vote in this year’s referendum. But again, she wonders how this will be enforced.
The Government says local communities will decide who represents them. Will the government of the day have to reject community nominations if there’s not enough women to reach that quota?
This is a question that was posed to Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt when the Senate sat until 4am last Friday. He said it would be a matter for parliament.
Ms Nampijinpa Price is concerned that despite good intentions, the most vulnerable people in these Aboriginal communities will still not be heard, even with a body constitutionally enshrined to represent them.
She can rattle off a dozen projects which could do more tangible good for disadvantaged communities.
‘There are shovel ready-projects right now that just need the funding in order for them to get off the ground,’ she says.
Elders in Alice Springs have been pleading for support for 18 months for education-focused, safe accommodation for children in the community.
‘We should be calling upon states to reconsider their policies around kinship care and a determination should be made on a child’s safety based on whether their needs are being met, whether their human rights are being upheld and if they’re not, then they should be placed in environments in homes that are meeting all of their needs,’ she said.
‘And it’s our job to ensure those proposals are listened to and based on their merit, supported. There are issues that can be addressed straight away.’
In the Senate, she addressed Yipirinya School’s proposal to have a bed to go to and an adult responsible for them at that school.
Bess Nungarrayi Price, a proud Warlpiri woman and Ms Nampijinpa Price’s mother, is the assistant principal at the school and knows all too well the hardship students face.
‘These students, they come from a hard, hard lifestyle situation. Some of them barely have a good night’s sleep and (there is) everything else that happens within those town camps,’ she said in January.
Ms Nampijinpa Price said: ‘We’re steaming toward this referendum and real issues are being sidelined.’
Mr Albanese has assured the public his vision is a ‘modest’ request which will have little impact on the lives of most Australians, but would be fundamental in bringing hope to First Nations people.
The prime minister said Australians will be afforded a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to improve the lives of First Nations people at the referendum, to be held between October and December.
‘Where’s the downside here?’ he asked. ‘What are people risking here? From my perspective this is all upside.’
After years of doing things ‘for’ Aboriginal people, often with the best of intentions, the PM said a Voice to Parliament would allow Indigenous people to take the front seat on matters crucial to them.
There have been concerns about what exactly this means. Critics of the Voice say there is not enough detail provided on just what matters the advisory body will have input on.
Attorney General Mark Dreyfus tried to clear up that confusion during the press conference.
He listed five key issues which will become the core focus of the advisory group: health, employment, education, housing and justice.
‘No harm can come from this referendum, only good,’ he said. ‘The parliament has done its job and now it’s up to the Australian people.’
Members of the referendum working group like Thomas Mayo and Aunty Pat Anderson have painted starkly different pictures about their vision for an advisory group.
Mr Mayo said a constitutional Voice will give Indigenous people a platform to ‘negotiate’ with the Commonwealth on their ‘obligations’.
‘A constitutionally enshrined Voice is important to establish to use the truth to support treaty negotiations,’ he said, detailing a desire for reparations for Indigenous people, ‘rent’ being paid to live on Australian land and the abolishment of ‘harmful colonial institutions’.
And Aunty Pat said a Yes vote will give ‘the mandate of the Australian people’, noting ‘yes, it has to have some power’.
Ms Nampijinpa Price argues the reality of the matter is that nobody truly knows the truth.
‘If a committee that has been put together to give direction so far are already speaking a different language to the government, you can foresee that a Voice would be made up of individuals who all have their own ideas.
‘Who knows if at some point those members… are prepared to use the full power of the Voice to litigate in the High Court against decisions being made.’
Mr Albanese and Ms Burney have been critical of questions raised by journalists and politicians about the scope of the Voice.
The PM said: ‘The Voice is not about defence policy. It’s not about foreign affairs policy, it’s not about these issues.’
When asked if the Indigenous Voice would be consulted on climate policy, Mr Albanese described it as one of the most ‘strange questions [he] has been asked about the Voice’.
He reiterated that the purpose of the Voice was to get advice on issues that directly affected Indigenous Australians, and anything else was just a ‘distraction’.
But Independent senator Lidia Thorpe argued environment is one of the most important matters to First Nations people.
Back in April, she told the senate: ‘Climate change and its root causes cannot be separated from colonisation.
‘This land is our mother, and we are killing her. Every time a new coal pit is dug, she is wounded. With every new fracking well that is driven into her veins, she bleeds.’
Ms Nampijinpa Price says there is no policy issue which impacts Aboriginal people differently.
‘That’s the word that concerns me most,’ she says. ‘Differently. That we are being treated differently based on our racial heritage.’
That is not to say there aren’t challenges faced by Aboriginal communities that disproportionately impact them.
‘The fact remains that the further you move away from a major capital city, the more marginalised Australians become and that’s everybody,’ she says.
‘But our most marginalised, of course, are those in the remotest parts of the country whose first language is not English who have very little access to those services.’
And the idea that No voters are right-wing extremists who don’t want to see Indigenous people thriving is one Ms Nampijinpa Price struggles to grapple with.
Ms Burney went so far as to say No voters were like Trump supporters, while Noel Pearson described Peter Dutton’s opposition to the Voice as a ‘Judas’-style ‘betrayal of the country’.
‘It’s just a distraction from the real issues,’ Ms Nampijinpa Price warns.
‘If the Minister for Indigenous Australians can’t actually provide detail on the Voice the next thing she’s going to do is attempt to provide a distraction, which is to name call.
‘That’s what happens when people don’t have an argument or detail. It’s not helpful for Australians who want answers to their questions.
‘It’s a big, hot mess.’
What we know about the Voice to Parliament so far
Here, Daily Mail Australia looks at some of the key questions about the Voice so far, and how the government has tackled them:
What kind of advice can the Voice provide the Parliament and Government?
The Voice will advise on matters that directly relate to Indigenous people.
It will respond to requests made by the government, while also having the power to engage proactively on matters that they believe impact them.
The group will have its own resources to research matters and engage with communities at a grassroots level to ensure it is best reflecting their needs.
How will members of the Voice be chosen?
Members of the Voice will be appointed by Indigenous communities and will serve on the committee for a fixed period of time, yet to be determined.
The way the communities choose their representatives will be agreed upon by the local communities in tandem with the government as part of a ‘post referendum process’ to ensure cultural legitimacy.
Who can become a member of the committee?
Members of the Voice must be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
They will be chosen from across each state and territory and have balanced gender representation nationally.
The government has also guaranteed that young people will be included in the committee to ensure representation across the broad scope of the community.
Will the Voice be transparent?
The government states the Voice will be subject to scrutiny and reporting requirements to ensure it is held accountable and remains transparent.
Voice members will be held to standards of the National Anti-Corruption Commission and will be sanctioned or removed from the committee if there are any findings of misconduct.
Will the Voice have veto power?
Will the Voice work independently of other government bodies?
The committee must respect the work and role of existing organisations, the government says.
Will the Voice handle any funds?
The Voice will not directly manage any money or deliver any services to the community.
Its sole role will be in making representations about improving existing government programs and services, and advising on new ideas coming through the parties.