The Stolen Generations may not have happened if the Voice to parliament had been around at the time for First Nations peoples to have their say, Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has said in her strongest advocacy yet of the proposal.

Speaking at a community forum last week, she defended the Voice to parliament as a protector of Indigenous Australians against misguided government policies, but warned that misinformation could still derail the referendum.

“Do you really think if there had been a Voice that we would have had the Northern Territory intervention?” she asked the gathering.

“Do you really think if there had been a Voice we would have had the Stolen Generations? Do you really think if there had been a Voice, that we would have the same health, education and housing outcomes that we have now?”

She added the Voice to parliament would “create a better, unified country” and that the “generosity and patience of First Nations people is a celebration for us all”. 

The Stolen Generations involved the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children from their families by the Australian government and mission authorities from the 1800s to the 1970s under the guise of social welfare programmes. Thousands of children were taken from families over multiple generations, fostering fear in Indigenous communities and causing profound intergenerational trauma.

I get so frustrated sometimes with the misinformation and disinformation that has been circulated about this referendum

The meeting hosted by the ANTaR Inner West Local Reconciliation Group at The Connection in Rhodes, Sydney, also heard from Dean Parkin, the campaign director of Yes23, and Labor MP Sally Sitou.

The member for Reid said the lack of a Voice was an “indictment on us as a society”, citing the rate of Indigenous youth incarceration and the lack of access to clean drinking water in some Indigenous communities.

Referring to opposition from some prominent Indigenous Australians, such as Independent Senator Lydia Thorpe, Parkin said: “We’ve got to be OK with the fact that there are going to be differences of opinions amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on this issue.”

But he assured the meeting the majority of polling shows 80-83 per cent of Indigenous Australians support the referendum.

Burney said she was increasingly concerned in the ‘Yes’ campaign that falsehoods could derail the vote, adding: “I get so frustrated sometimes with the misinformation and disinformation that has been circulated about this referendum.”

This week Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said the AEC had seen an increase in disinformation on social media and a “regrettable increase in threatening commentary”. Rogers also confirmed the AEC is working on measures to educate and inform voters on referendums and misinformation. 

The ‘No’ campaign, led by key conservative political voices including Opposition leader Peter Dutton, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, recently came under fire after revelations that ‘No’ campaigners Warren Mundine and Country Liberal Party Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price had allegedly lied about the identity of a man they claimed to be Indigenous activist Vincent Lingiari’s grandson, after using footage of him campaigning against the Voice. 

There was vigorous debate on the floor of the House of Representatives this week, as the referendum bill makes its way through Parliament.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese labeled Dutton’s framing of the Voice as ‘unworthy of the alternative Prime Minister of this nation’ after Dutton called the Voice a “symptom of the madness of identity politics which has infected the 21st century”.

Dutton has argued the proposed Voice would divide Australians along race lines.

The referendum on a Voice to parliament is expected to be held in the latter half of this year, between September and December, with a date in November considered most likely.

Burney told the meeting: “I’ve got a pretty good idea about when, but I’m not allowed to tell you.”

Main image by Nick Newling.