Disappointment and despair

Australian voters reject the Voice to Parliament

Saturday the 14th October 2023 was a bad day for us all. After a promising start, the Voice Referendum Yes campaign met the surly resistance of a dog-in-the-manger Coalition, which it was unable to counter. Only 39% of the population voted Yes, to recognise 65,000 years of indigenous connection to this country, and to establish a permanent advisory body of First Nations people to government. First nations people worked hard for years on this campaign and are exhausted and disappointed.

Many of us made phone calls, door-knocked, letter-boxed, and stood on the street handing out leaflets to voters in the Yes campaign. We are proud that the ACT delivered a resounding Yes vote. But it was the only state or territory that did.

Vintage Reds members will not live to see any further Constitutional amendments taken to a referendum, after the cynical manipulation and deliberate lies which were a feature of this one.

We do however note the solidarity with First Nations people shown by union members and the whole union movement across the country. We must keep the generous spirit of the Uluru Statement from the Heart alive and well, so that we can eventually achieve its call for “a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination”:

We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

Refugees in Limbo: 10 Years of Trauma

Vintage Reds have always supported the Canberra Refugee Action Campaign, which has marked “Ten Years of Trauma”.

Ten years ago the Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd announced that from July 2013 anyone arriving by boat to seek asylum would never settle in Australia.

Thousands of people were detained in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea. Conditions were horrific, and there were fourteen deaths under this regime.

The Albanese government has still not changed Kevin Rudd’s policy: its recent decision to give permanent residence status applied only to those who arrived before July 2013.

At yesterday’s rally on Northbourne Avenue, Mostafa Azimitabar (“Moz“), an Iranian Kurd, spoke movingly of his experience while detained on Manus and in a Melbourne hotel. He was held by our government for 2,727 days in detention for no crime. Now he is in Australia on a temporary bridging visa. No permanent settlement.

On Manus Island, Moz had only coffee and a toothbrush to paint with. When he was released he made a self-portrait, “KNS088”, the number he was given instead of his name when he was a prisoner, and submitted it for the 2022 Archibald Prize, where it was chosen as a finalist. It is painted with coffee and acrylic paint.

Moz: “Life is very precious. Never give up.”

After ten years of trauma, it is time to end this cruelty. The Albanese government must grant permanent visas to all refugees, remove the ban on resettlement and end offshore detention once and for all. It is time to give those who have been stuck in limbo for up to a decade, a permanent home right now!

Canberra refugee action campaign

Letters to the Editor

Vintage Reds members are prolific and thoughtful contributors to the Canberra Times letters page, as well as other media organisations further afield.

Keeping a record of every one of these letters would be an onerous job; here is a recent selection, dealing with the Ghan, Robodebt, cluster bombs, and the Voice to Parliament.

This first letter was in response to an article by Malcolm Knox, ‘When you change the government you change the country’. Today, it’s the other way round”, published in the Canberra Times on 15 April 2023.

Canberra Times: 16 April 2023: Labor can end inequality and bring back the ‘fair go’

Knox’s article is profound. The increasing stress of uncertainty, loss of control, degradation of values, rampant acquisition, and the loss of maning and purpose are now th norm. Capitalism has foregone our sense of belonging, the need to care for one another. We have forgotten what it means to be human.

Judy nicholas, Kambah, ACT

SMH Traveller Letters: 7 July 2023: Shower with praise

After reading the article about the Ghan (Traveller, June 25) and the recent letter (Traveller Letters, June 17) suggesting that before one travels abroad first enjoy the wonder of the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth, that is what I did. I was then inspired to economy ride the Trans Siberian Rail Beijing to Moscow where I experienced great food, beautiful vistas and unforgettable cultural memories. However, one shower per carriage of 16 passengers proved challenging. I placed my name on the list outside the shower with my preferred time of day only to find interlopers frequently took my choice. The Ghan’s room, comfortable bed and own shower were definitely superior.

Judy Nicholas, Kambah, ACT

Next is a letter from our colleague Albert, with some text restored (it must have fallen on the editorial room floor) to give the full content and flavour of the inimitable White style:

Canberra Times: 12 July 2023: Cynical and ironic

[Surely the cynical] irony of the Royal Commission’s conclusions is that while top bureaucrats and politicians were sucking-up to PwC partners, [hence, vicariously, to billionaire, tax-evading, global behemoths,] the same cabal were mercilessly sacrificing Australia’s penuriously less fortunate to technology’s algorithms [(Robodebt ‘failures’ of APS, CT, 8 July, p.1/6)].

Albert White, Queanbeyan, ACT

Canberra Times, 18 July 2023: Do the right thing

I’m glad Albo has reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to the international convention against cluster bombs at the NATO summit. If the US cannot be persuaded to abide by the international rules-based order, Australia should seriously consider severing its ties with NATO.

Peter Ellett, Scullin, ACT

Canberra Times, 19 July 2023: Compassion is genius

Albert Einstein was concerned with the great social issues of the day.

The unwritten laws of the Jim Crow era were enforced by the lynching of any African American who refused to obey them. In 1946 Einstein joined the American Crusade Against Lynching, resulting in criticism from anti-Semites and an investigation by the FBI.

[“Be a voice and not an echo”], Einstein’s plea to his fellow Americans to join him in fighting lynching, is eerily relevant in today’s Australia.

Australians have a choice. We can be a Voice for reconciliation, tolerance and unity. Or we can echo the hateful rubbish put out by ultra-conservative commentators on pay TV and their acolytes on social media.

Noel Baxendell, Holt, ACT

Canberra Times, 20 July 2023: Who are we?

If we don’t support the Voice to Parliament, what kind of country will we be?
If we don’t pass this referendum, there will be despair in the hearts of many people.
People like the respected Elder Pat Anderson, who is exhausted from begging for things to be done differently:
“…every time there is a change in government; a change in minister… a new head of department…We have to sit down and go painfully over everything all again … we are going back to ground zero every single time.”

The Voice is a small thing but whatever its form, it will not divide us, it will enrich us.

The dreadful figures on aboriginal people’s lifespan, health, family trauma, are all indicative of one thing: we are not doing things right in this country.

The Voice is a gift from Aboriginal people to the rest of us, a chance to be a better country.

How will you feel if the No vote wins? We will look like the very worst of us, a backward leaning, frightened people, easily persuaded by cynical and organised and deliberate attempts to confuse us.

We are better than that.

Please, for all of us, vote Yes to the Voice.

A. A. Gunn, O’Connor, ACT

Launch of “YES 23”

On the first day of NAIDOC week, Sunday 2 July 2023,
Salthouse Community Centre, Ngala Windbreak, Canberra

The Australian trade union movement is unequivocally supporting the Yes campaign for the upcoming referendum on a first nations Voice.

There were politicians, federal and local, and of course a fair number of union members past and present, in the crowd this morning in Braddon. We were treated to an impressive line-up of speakers, beginning with Ngunnawal Elder Aunty Violet Sheridan, and including another well-known Canberran, our 2023 Canberra Citizen of the Year, Katrina Fanning.

Katrina was also the ACT’s 2020 Australian of the Year, her many years working in government and indigenous affairs recognised when she was awarded a Public Service Medal in 2015. She is currently a director at Coolamon Advisors, which supports the design, management, delivery and evaluation of government policy and programs, particularly in indigenous areas.

Speech by Katrina Fanning AO PSM

Katrina spent quite a few years playing rugby, including with the Junee Diesels (aged 10), and later 26 appearances for the Australian women’s team, the Jillaroos (including two World Cups), and she was unwilling to risk her knees getting up onto the speaker’s rock. So in this photo she is almost invisible in the sea of people who had come out on a cold winter’s morning to support the launch of the “YES 23” campaign.

Katrina acknowledged the Ngunnawal people, traditional owners of the land we met together on.

She thanked the many hundreds of people in the audience for coming to support YES 23.


I am a Wiradjuri woman from Junee NSW. I have had the pleasure of living here and being part of the Canberra community for more than thirty years.

I am voting YES to the referendum.

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Quite a lot has changed over the Covid years, including at UnionsACT, where Vintage Reds is an affiliate. Here is a brief look at the people who are leading the fight for improved working conditions and a better life for us all.

Kasey Tomkins is the UnionsACT Secretary. She has a background with United Voice (now the United Workers Union). She worked in childcare and had planned to train in midwifery, because her wages were so low, before making the leap into union work. Kasey took over at the end of last year from Matthew Harrison, who visited Vintage Reds meetings on a number of occasions.

Photo from UnionsACT: Kasey with activists, including some Vintage Reds, in 2018

Maddy Northam, President of UnionsACT, is the regional Secretary of the CPSU. She stood last year as Katy Gallagher’s running mate in the federal Senate election, and earlier in 2020 was a Labor candidate in the ACT elections in the seat of Kurrajong.

Former UnionsACT Secretary Alex White (2014 – 20) is now working with the ACTU as its Director of Growth.

Many people will remember Jeremy Pyner, former Secretary of UnionsACT (1994-2002), or the Trades and Labour Council as it was in his day. He began his union life with the Building Workers Industrial Union, on the fully unionised Parliament House site in 1986. Jeremy is unfortunately no longer with us; after a long struggle with his health, he died in November 2022.

Kate Lundy, ACT TLC President until 1995 when she was given first spot on Labor’s ACT Senate ticket, started her working life in the construction industry and is another who rose from the ranks of the BWIU. Her time in government led her to the world of information and communications, and she now sits on several boards of directors including as head of the board at the Canberra Institute of Technology.

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Vote Yes! to the Voice

Find out what is happening in the campaign for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

A good place to start, or to recap what you know, is the ABC’s page, “What is the Indigenous Voice to Parliament? Here’s how it would work and who’s for and against it“.

Meanwhile, the list of organisations which have come out in support of a Yes vote continues to grow. Individual unions as well as the ACTU; First Nations Workers Alliance; sporting federations (the NRL first off the line); migrant and cultural community organisations; the list gets longer each day, most recently Qantas adding its name.

The federal government has been busy putting out information for language groups apart from English – you can listen to an explanation of the referendum process in Chinese, Farsi, or Greek, etc., but also in Northern Territory Kriol, or Warlpiri, or Yolngu. Have a listen! It’s a sign of the determination being brought to this campaign, to get everyone on board.

Once we know what’s at stake, we can make a better choice – and vote Yes!

The PM & the hard-working Referendum Working Group
(from a photo by Mark Moore, ABC News, late May)

Where are we in the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out?

I was very excited to see a box of AstraZeneca vaccines being walked in the front door of a local GP clinic a month or so ago. At last, a return to normality, I thought.

Not so fast. In their astonishingly inept fashion, the Coalition government has thrown spanners in the works and the roll-out is a mess, with what seems like daily attempts to rephrase what has been said in order to dodge responsibility for cock-ups.

Former Health Department secretary Stephen Duckett criticised the government as politely as he could in Monday’s Canberra Times,

[Duckett] blasted the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout,
calling it an “expensive shambles” & “train wreck” shrouded in
secrecy about the use of contractors & consultants.

By now, most Vintage Reds will have been able to get at least their first shot of AstraZeneca.

Here is a little GUIDE to VACCINES, while we wait for the next reword and wind-back of the government’s commitment to our health.

It’s important to keep in mind these things:

  • the benefit of these vaccines is to prevent people from getting a serious case of COVID.
  • vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus.
  • the side effects of any vaccine may be unpleasant enough to think about taking a panadol before you get your shot, prophylactically. And take a couple of days off if you can.
  • a flu shot is also a good idea, but talk to your doctor about spacing it with the vaccine.
  • and last, keep an eye on developments with new vaccines and news about the old ones. The state of what we know is constantly changing.

So, what are all these vaccines?

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Stop the US Blockade of Cuba

Several Vintage Reds members turned up in Garema Place, Canberra, on 24 April 2021, to join a protest against the unjust, criminal and unneighbourly US blockade of Cuba. Banners and flags were erected and photos taken for posting to social media. The demonstration was part of the world wide “Bridges of Love” movement to build pressure on the US to change its vote in the upcoming UN motion on 23 June. (#UnblockCuba. https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Cuba-To-Present-UN-Resolution-To-End-the-US-Blockade-on-June-23-20210423-0011.html)

Australia Cuba Friendship Society Vice-president Pam Dean gave a description of a Children’s hospital in Las Tunas for which the Society had raised $A6,840. A cheque for that amount was presented to the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos in April 2019.

ACFS President Rob Parnell made a short speech on the National Declaration emanating from the December 2020 ACFS National Consultation, and read an extract from the Declaration. ACFS member Marcos Cruz spoke on the blockade.

Pete West played Guantanamera on the harmonica and Christopher Lang led the singing of this well known Cuban song, with Rob Parnell harmonising.

Rob Parnell