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Friday, 30 June 2023 10:25

'The Voice gives us hope' - Local presentations help explain referendum

Frank Brennan in Townsville Voice 550Well-known priest, lawyer and advocate, Fr Frank Brennan SJ visited Townsville and Palm Island recently and while there, presented information sessions to the local people about the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Fr Manh Le SVD, parish priest at St Anne’s Parish on Palm Island, said Fr Frank’s visit, while primarily to attend a funeral for a local leader, was a great opportunity to share information on the Voice with the local Indigenous community.

“He stayed here with me for a couple of days and he went to the funeral, and also celebrated Mass on Sunday and talked to the people after Mass about the Voice,” Fr Manh said.

“He was very good to listen to and he explained why it’s so important that people vote Yes to the referendum so that Indigenous people are recognised and so they can have their voice heard by parliament. It’s really important. Even though it may not be the perfection option, is there any perfect thing in our current political climate?”

Fr Frank began his visit to North Queensland by giving a presentation to more than 100 people who were gathered at St Teresa’s Church in Garbutt, Townsville.

He had just returned from Rome where he presented his latest book to Pope Francis, inscribing his thanks to the Pope for having written in his Laudato Si’ encyclical, the following words:

“It is essential to show special care for Indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.”

Fr Frank said Pope Francis’ words offer important guidance to those considering the merits of the Voice to Parliament.

Frank Brennan explains the Voice on Palm Island 550“I think that statement from Pope Francis sums up what you might call the underlying philosophy of why the need for a Voice, and that’s the first issue that we need to confront as a nation,” he said.

“We as a country, we want to come together through this process of a referendum and I think the first philosophical question that confronts each of us is when we look at our Constitution (is) do we want it to be a document that says everyone is treated exactly the same and therefore no one is specially mentioned - and there are Australians who think that that’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it should continue to be in future - or do we think that there is a need in the Constitution, our founding document, for a recognition of those who are the proud inheritors of the most ancient and continuous living culture on earth, namely that of Aboriginal Australians.”

Fr Joseph Reddy SVD, Parish Priest of the Good Shepherd Pastoral Region in Townsville, said he attended the presentation and found it thought-provoking.

“I have learnt from Fr Frank’s discourse that this process has been hurried and that not enough education has been provided for the regional settlers,” he said. “I’ve a concern that the people don’t know enough about how the Voice referendum will bring meaning and change to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ lives, as I see the statements look good on paper but the practicality? I’ve learnt that this is complex matter for me and for the congregation to digest, and I believe bringing awareness and having respectful conversations is important, without hurting the other’s opinion.”

On Palm Island, Fr Frank attended the funeral of community leader Thomas Geia. While there, he recalled how Thomas “never gave up, pursuing truth, justice and the wellbeing of his people”.

He recalled how, 40 years ago, two young Aboriginal leaders from Palm Island – Thomas Geia and Rachel Cummins – appeared on national television to make the people’s voice heard in speaking out against the Frank Brennan with Dianne Foster on Palm Island 350Bjelke-Petersen Government’s proposal for land tenure.

“Representing their people, they said they wanted more. They wanted secure land rights for their people,” Fr Frank said in his homily at Sunday Mass on Palm Island.

They won their fight and in 1986, a secure land title was conferred on the Palm Island communities.

Local First Nations woman Dianne Foster said it was inspiring to hear Fr Frank speak of those early struggles and how important it was for the voice of the local people to be heard in decisions relating to their lives.

“Brother Tom fought for the very same thing we’re talking about now, so we can have a voice in parliament,” she said.

Dianne said she attended Fr Frank’s talk on Palm Island and found that it answered many of her questions about the Voice.

“When Fr Frank advocates for us Indigenous people, we see God is working for us too, bringing about change in our country for us,” she said.

“He explained the Voice to us and how any change like this to the Constitution needs to go to a referendum so that everyone in the country can decide on whether to vote Yes or No.

“Personally, I am going to vote Yes because I want to see some change here. We are the grassroots people, working at the front line with our mob, and we see all the disadvantage our people are going through, whether its education, youth crime, health, people dying younger from diseases that are easily preventable.

“Nobody else is going to help us. Somebody has to be there for us, giving us a voice when the decisions are being made. We need our own mob, contributing, planning, and making decisions for us.”

Frank Brennan with Manh Le on Palm Island 550Dianne said maybe not everybody on Palm Island intended to vote Yes, but she was doing her best to share information with people to help them make an informed decision.

“We are so used to being disappointed that some are just going to Vote No instead of finding out more information about the Voice and what it means,” she said.

“But we’ve got a lot of strong Aboriginal people in this country who can very well sit down with the people in parliament and help make decisions for us.

“I remain hopeful for our future. A Yes vote is a chance for us to help our people and others – the Voice gives us hope.”




TOP RIGHT: Fr Frank Brennan SJ gives a presentation on the Voice to Parliament in Townsville.

MIDDLE LEFT: Fr Frank speaks to people on Palm Island about the Voice.

MIDDLE RIGHT: Fr Frank with Dianne Foster, who says the prospect of a Yes vote in the referendum gives hope for her people.

BOTTOM LEFT: Fr Manh Le SVD with a Palm Island local and Fr Frank Brennan.