Andrea Hamblin, The Telegraph, September 14, 2023
British colonialism has had a positive effect on Aboriginals, a leading indigenous campaigner has argued, prompting anger in the run up to Australia’s indigenous rights referendum.
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, a senator for the Northern Territory and a leading voice in the “No” campaign against giving indigenous people more rights, denied that they were suffering as a result of British settlement.
“A positive impact, absolutely,” she said, responding to reporters’ questions. “I mean, now we have running water, readily available food.”
The comments from Ms Price, the conservative opposition’s spokesman for indigenous Australians, prompted an immediate backlash in an already fiery debate about a possible new law that would give indigenous people greater influence on government policy.
Ms Price, who is from the Warlpiri group but also has Celtic heritage, argued that indigenous people now had the same opportunities as all Australians as a result of infrastructure and political systems brought by colonists.
“We certainly have probably one of the greatest systems around the world in terms of the democratic structure in comparison to other countries – that is why migrants flock to Australia.
“If we keep telling Aboriginal people that they are victims, well, we are effectively removing their agency … That is the worst possible thing you can do to any human being – to tell them they are a victim without agency and that’s what I refuse to do.”
‘Ongoing trauma and pain’
Linda Burney, the minister indigenous Australians, said that Ms Price’s comments about colonisation were offensive and “a betrayal”.
“We only have to look at the Stolen Generations and the impacts that has had, in terms of ongoing trauma and pain,” Ms Burney said.
Australians will vote on whether they support constitutional changes that would enshrine in law an “advisory body” to give feedback on policies affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It has been described as Australia’s “Brexit moment”.
Polling suggests that the new law proposed by the governing Labor Party could be rejected at the ballot box in October.
Ms Price also refused to condemn the views of “No” campaigners who have argued for indigenous people to take blood tests for welfare payments.
The backlash to Ms Price’s comments have further heightened emotions and divisions at a time when campaigners on both sides have reported becoming victims of harassment and racism.
On Wednesday, the prominent “Yes” campaigner Prof Marcia Langton revealed that she was seeking legal advice on media comments that suggested she had labelled “No” voters “stupid” and “racist”.
“I’m saying the claims being made by the ‘No’ case are based in racism and stupidity – and appeal to racism and stupidity,” Prof Langton said.
Indigenous people die eight years earlier than other Australians, are less likely to finish school and suffer the worst rates of disease, statistics show.
Proponents see the Indigenous Voice referendum as a way to close the gap on disadvantage and heal the generational trauma caused by atrocities committed after British settlement 200 years ago.
Grassroots representatives of Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory responded to Ms Price’s comments with anger, stating the senator did not represent their views.
In April, 90 elected indigenous community leaders from 15 language groups in central Australia signed a statement that Ms Price “needs to stop pretending we are her people”.
Ms Price, in her speech on Thursday, accused campaigners of exploiting less-educated people for political gain.
“Isn’t that just ironic that their voices are not heard although the ‘Yes’ campaign have exploited their land for the purposes of this referendum?”
She added: “Our nation’s rule book belongs to every Australian. And it is not a document to be taken for granted or to be jeopardised for the sake of a vibe … Designers of the Voice continue to push the idea that we are different to everyone else despite also being Australian.”