A grim outlook of life if Australia votes No in the upcoming referendum has been foreshadowed by prominent Indigenous leader Noel Pearson.
Mr Pearson, the founder of the Cape York Institute, detailed why he believed Australia needed a Yes result in the October 14 referendum while appearing as a guest on Neil Mitchell’s 3AW on Tuesday.
During the interview, Mitchell suggested that a No result would not rule out progress and change could still be enacted regardless of the outcome – a concept that was swiftly refuted by Mr Pearson.
“There is no plan B. Mate, I have been at this for 30 years working on these problems from the ground up, and I’m telling you that there is no plan B,” he told the host.
“No will be a disaster for all of us. We will all lose, including the No campaigners. We will lose. If we vote Yes, we’ll all win, including the No campaigners. This will be good for them and for the entire country if we vote Yes.”
Mitchell expressed doubt over a Yes outcome positively impacting Indigenous issues highlighted by Mr Pearson, including low life expectancy and preventable diseases.
He argued that “surely something can still be done even if there’s a No vote” and had difficulty comprehending the finite impact of the No vote predicted by Mr Pearson.
“So, you’re seriously telling me a No vote means people continue to die at this rate, that the appalling conditions continue?” Mitchell said.
Mr Pearson, to further his point, referenced how the local member for the Cape York Peninsula in the Torres Strait failed to mention rheumatic heart disease to parliament in 26 years of serving the community, despite it having a catastrophic impact on the local Indigenous people.
“Two Indigenous people die per week from rheumatic heart disease and yet our local member, who’s been our member for 26 years, has never once mentioned it in parliament,” he said.
A Yes outcome, Mr Pearson argued, would mean a representative voice would be “continually present: in the ear of the parliament and government”.
Mitchell argued issues affecting Indigenous people should be fixed regardless of whether their Voice was present in parliament, which Mr Pearson said simply wasn’t plausible.
With leaders changing every few years, policies and priorities were constantly changing. A voice, Mr Pearson said, would allow for impactful change to continue to be rolled out over generations.
Still, Mitchell was not convinced, arguing that urgent problems – like rheumatic heart disease – should, as a stand-alone issue, serve as a turning point “regardless of the vote”.
Mr Pearson said historically there had been “many false sunrises”, including with the Rudd government’s Closing the Gap, which was a “great idea” but present figures showed that “most of the gaps are still outstanding”.
“I’m telling you, Neil, in this space, in the poverty space, the fact that governments announce initiatives is worth a pinch of, you know, the proverbial. It doesn’t result in the kind of change that is needed,” Mr Pearson said.
When probed over why he thought the government would “suddenly start listening” if the Voice was introduced, he replied by pointing out it was a far better option than “we have now”.
The interview came to somewhat of a frosty conclusion when Mr Pearson asked Mitchell if he had “a solution for giving us more”, which the host responded to by saying it was his job to ask questions “to find out what it achieves in real terms”.
“But wouldn’t you say, as you know your business. I know my business mate. My business is not sitting in a radio cube,” Mr Pearson said.
“My business is working in the stony fields of disadvantage and poverty and misery and alcoholism and hungry children, where people are going to jail.”
Mitchell claimed the Voice as a concept – separate to recognition of Indigenous issues – was an issue for Australians, which Mr Pearson rejected given it was an idea that had been floated for 15 years.
“Neil. I don’t know if you’ve just tuned in now. We’ve talked about this; the Voice has been on the table. The idea of an advisory body is now 11 years old,” he said.
Mitchell reacted by shutting the interview down.
“I know you’ve got to get to the Royal Melbourne. Thank you very much for coming in. I appreciate your time,” he said.