Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese’s (CSPD) annual Ann D Clark Lecture is always a memorable address. Never has it been more so than the powerful 2023 presentation earlier this month by Uluru Statement from the Heart signatory and Voice to Parliament ‘Yes’ campaign advocate Thomas Mayo.
Staff from across CSPD’s 80 Western Sydney and Blue Mountains schools, office staff, the Jarara Cultural Centre team, Elders and Aunties came together to hear Thomas explain the purpose and journey behind the upcoming Voice referendum.
Prior to Thomas taking the stage, CSPD Executive Director of Schools Jack de Groot gave a welcome speech during which he announced that CSPD offers its support of the Voice and the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“It’s about keeping our Catholic commitment to social justice and walking with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and colleagues for a better future,” Jack said.
Thomas cited the many previous attempts to establish a representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people where they could have a say in important decisions affecting them now and in the future, from the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association in 1924 to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) which was abolished in 2005.
“We’ve known for a long time that we need a voice, to have a greater defence against harmful decisions, but they are always silenced by the next government to come in,” he said.
“We are seeking to enshrine this Voice in the Constitution so that this can’t happen. Petitions and statements are usually ignored by the leaders so we’re inviting a decision from the Australian people rather than the King or Queen or Parliament.”
Following a moving recitation of the full Uluru Statement from the Heart, Thomas shared insights into how this historical consensus was reached at the National Constitutional Convention in Uluru in 2017 and his joy that the current Government has committed in full to the recommendations in the Statement, which includes a Voice to Parliament.
While acknowledging there are differing views on the Voice and that not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people support it, Thomas said there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation out there about what the referendum is actually asking Australians to decide on.
“In summary, it’s asking ‘Should we recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by giving them a say on matters that affect them?’. It’s an obligation to establish the Voice but it does not legislate what is done. It is not taking anything away from anyone. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will work with Government to design the model of this advisory group, who will be on it, how many and from where.”
When asked by an audience member what people, in particular non-Indigenous people, can do to spread knowledge about the Voice as we head towards the referendum in October, Thomas said: “Join the ‘Yes’ campaign as an individual, discuss it at your church, get copies of the pamphlets and share them in your organisations, find like-minded people so you are not carrying the burden on your own. Take that ‘Yes’ and give it to others.”
At the conclusion of his presentation, Thomas received a standing ovation, with many attendees later commenting that it was the first time they really understood what the Voice to Parliament and the referendum are all about.
The 2023 Ann D Clark Lecture was superbly facilitated by MC Jewel Osbourne, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student in Year 11 at St Agnes Catholic High School Rooty Hill, who presented Thomas with a ‘thank you’ gift of a dragonfly pin, a symbol of transformation. Principal of Xavier College Llandilo, Michael Pate, gave a vote of thanks to Thomas on behalf of all attendees. The Acknowledgment of Country at the start of the event was delivered by Jarara Cultural Centre Lead Julie Waddell.
About Ann D Clark
The Ann D Clark Lecture is held annually in honour of past Executive Director, Ann D Clark. In 1987, Ann was appointed as founding Executive Director of Catholic Education in the newly established Diocese of Parramatta. She retained this position until her death on 27 January 1997. Each year, CSPD hosts the Ann D Clark lecture in her honour.
With thanks to Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese.