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Voice and Treaty Must Happen Hand in Hand

By Callen Sorensen Karklis

Hello, I am a Nunukul, Goenpul, Ngugi salt water Aboriginal person from Quandamooka Country (Moreton Bay – from North Stradbroke Island) with European heritage as well. Let me tell you why it’s important for my people that the Voice, Treaty, and Truth happen hand in hand. Each are important issues and there are arguments for them to be addressed individually, but nonetheless there is no reason why we can’t ask for all three, as one.

Since the colonial era began in 1788 after the arrival of the first fleet in Sydney Cove, the Australian Frontier Wars (1788-1934) which resulted in 100,000 -115,000 genocidal deaths across the Australian continent, plague pandemics brought from overseas, slave labour, stolen wages, the stolen generations, the eugenics policies of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (later known as the White Australia policy) our nation’s First Nations peoples (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) have been subjected to a great deal of hardship.

In some parts of Australia there has been a total loss of Aboriginal culture, and languages passed down from the Dreamtime while other Indigenous communities have faced enormous social issues. While some think it’s easy being Indigenous, there are so many reasons benefits exist because First Nations people have been failed time and time again by a broken system. It can be a hard life subject to so many complex traumas, underlying beyond comprehension to most.

This explains why; On average there is a 10-year gap-between First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians on life expectancy. First Nations people are more likely to have the following issues affect them:

  • 3x times more likely to have a coronary event.
  • 3x times more likely to have diabetes.
  • 2x times more likely to have vision issues.
  • 7x times more likely to have a kidney disease.
  • 3x times more likely to have a hospitalisation relating to respiratory conditions.
  • 50% more likely to die of cancer.
  • Worse out of home care situations on average.
  • Of the total Australian population with the drug and alcohol problems 1 in 7 is an Indigenous Person.
  • More likely to have mental health issues.
  • More likely to have suicidal tendencies and self-harm.
  • Don’t always have access to clean water functional sewerage, and electrified services.
  • More likely dependent on welfare payments living in poverty and 1 in 2 are more likely to be unemployed on average.
  • Life expectancy, child mortality, employment, reading, and numeracy, and school attendance rates all still low according to recent United Nations reports.
  • For an Aboriginal person you are 15x more likely to be incarcerated compared with a non–Indigenous Australian person. Deaths are still occurring in detention. In Qld alone there is no Custody Notification Service (CNS) for First Nations prisoners when compared to other States and Territories.

Today according to the latest ABS data there are well over 984,000 estimated First Nations people across Australia. Many of them still lack in living standards that most non-Indigenous people take for granted. Regardless of who they vote for, what their class, or profession, or background, most First Nations people are still worse off and many in these communities know that.

Sure, there has been small successes since the WW2/Post War eras with then Labor Prime Minister John Curtin increasing social welfare payments for First Nations people in the 1940s along with QLD Labor Premier Frank Arthur Cooper accepting the stolen wages for my family members working for the Benevolent Asylum on North Stradbroke Island since the late 1910s-1940s. Which was one of the first successful wage claims for First Nations people both nationally and statewide. But these successes were hard fought with blood, sweat and tears in activist groups like the Aboriginal Progressive Association.

In 1967 First Nations people had to fight tooth and nail to gain the right to vote and be recognised for their basic human rights in the 1967 referendum to just be recognised as human beings. Prior to 1967 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were classed as flora and fauna. Not even sub-human but lower than animals and plants according to the legislative acts of early federation and colonial times.



Whitlam’s Labor Government introduced the Racial Discrimination Act effectively ending the White Australia policy (but it still exists partially but in name to this day because racism can be so embedded unconsciously). In 1975–1991 Land Rights were granted by the Whitlam Labor and Fraser Coalition Governments. Hawke’s Labor Government organised the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) to contribute a say in their lives along with government policy. Hawke’s successor Keating went several steps further by acknowledging the wrongs of European colonization in his Redfern address and adhering to the MABO decision in the form of Native Title legislation. While the Rudd Labor government apologised to the Stolen Generations in 2008.


Watch Paul Keating’s Redfern Speech:


Watch Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generation(s):



There have also been backwards steps. The Joh era (in Queensland) of the Nationals undermining civil liberties of First Nations people as well as the Coalition Howard government introducing the Northern Territory intervention in 2007 which in some ways addressed the need to curb alcohol fuelled violence but also exacerbated issues beyond government policy makers understanding without including the consultation of First Nations leaders and elders. There was also abolition of ATSIC which also fell into disrepair by infighting and nepotism as well as a lack of interest from the Coalition Government to see it succeed. There has also been infighting between family groups rife in Native Title as some groups and have been prone to greed as well, which can also occur in Indigenous communities as well.

First Nations people have always fought hard to be recognised and have their rights heard, which has to this day been a daily struggle. That is why I was part of the working group with other trade unionist in the Qld Labor Indigenous Labor Network (QILN) as both executive member and state conference delegate for in the QLD Labor Party in 2016 – 2017, where I worked with ETU organiser and Chair of QILN to advocate for the introduction of a Treaty by a future Labor State Governments. This passed by the then 2016 Qld State Labor Conference with ease when I was more active in the party.

As a public servant myself – working in the Human Rights space – I see how much the need for a Voice and Treaty just is. Five Australian states are adopting the treaty process on a state level. The current QLD Labor government is far from perfect – no government is – but to its credit it to its word is introducing a Treaty process with First Nations people and its communities currently alongside Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria (which now already has an assembly of elected officials who are elected democratically by their own nations of Indigenous communities). As of early 2023 NSW and Tasmania are the only states without a move towards treaty under Liberal National Coalition governments, but this could change if Labor is elected to government at this month’s NSW State Election. Sovereignty was never ceded by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples and their elders, even to this day.



States and Territories adopting Treaty and Assembly:

  • Victoria (2019)
  • Queensland (currently underway)
  • Western Australia (currently underway)
  • South Australia (currently underway)
  • Northern Territory (currently underway)
  • Australian Capital Territory (ACT) (currently underway)

Considering that New Zealand has been electing its own Kiwi Moari seats since 1867 it has produced more results for their people than it has for First Australians. While there are still gaps in living standards for Maori peoples in NZ it’s better still than not having a say in the electoral and decision-making process of Westminster. A New Zealand First Maori politician has even held the high office of Deputy Prime Minister (Winston Peters) in coalition with both the Nationals and Labour/Greens parties from time to time in 1996-1998 and 2017-2020. Even the United States has seen a Native American person hold the Vice-Presidency (Charles Curtis) in 1929-1933. The United States today is implementing its own voice system for Native American delegates. Norway has the Sami parliament for its First Nations people as well.

Every day I still see police brutality towards First Nations people (not all police behave like this, but it still happens more often than you think). I see countless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people victim of discrimination in their workplaces due to their race, or kids being excluded at school because. I see other government offices of departments struggle to comprehend government policy in relation to Aboriginal cultural protocols like a simple Welcome to Country, Acknowledgments, Sorry Business, or language. I see MPs only acknowledge Aboriginal Corporations but don’t acknowledge elders. I still see racism rife among some in politics despite what political party they’re from on the Left, or the Right be it from Labor, Greens, to the LNP, Nationals, or One Nation. It exists to this day. I also see how worse off ATSI people are in the prison system, while others are suffering countless health problems or issues relating to drugs and alcohol.

It pains me to admit this but for most of the time no matter how much goodwill is behind a decision despite who made it. Most of the time in recent decades most policy makers making policies relating to Indigenous people didn’t even bother consulting Indigenous people even if it meant well. THINK ABOUT THAT.


Asking Indigenous peoples to simply elect one of their own democratically to sit in an extra chamber advising future government irrespective of what party wins elections. Isn’t a hard task to ask. I think it would be more productive to have more Indigenous advising State Governments via a Treaty in QLD and nationally through the Voice then having none at all in the room which could only make situations worse and a continual revolving door of post generational trauma that persists for another 235 years. Perhaps we could have a civil discussion about what many call Australia Day then, closing the gap, and improving living standards for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Having a voice might also increase the chances of more First Nations people becoming engaged in politics and see aspire to see perhaps a First Nations State Premier or Prime Minister one day?


Callen Sorensen Karklis, Bachelor of Government and International Relations.

Callen is a Quandamooka Nunukul Aboriginal person from North Stradbroke Island. He has been the Secretary of the Qld Fabians in 2018, and the Assistant Secretary 2018 – 2019, 2016, and was more recently the Policy and Publications Officer 2020 – 2021. Callen previously was in Labor branch executives in the Oodgeroo (Cleveland areas), SEC and the Bowman FEC. He has also worked for Cr Peter Cumming, worked in market research, trade unions, media advertising, and worked in retail. He also ran for Redland City Council in 2020 on protecting the Toondah Ramsar wetlands. Callen is active in Redlands 2030, Labor LEAN, the Redlands Museum, and his local sports club at Victoria Pt Sharks Club. Callen also has a Diploma of Business and attained his tertiary education from Griffith University. He was a co-host from time to time on Workers Power 4ZZZ (FM 102.1) on Tuesday morning’s program Workers Power. He is currently a public servant for the Qld Government.


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  1. margcal

    The history here is not disputed, and could be expanded many times over. It is beyond shameful.
    But there are some things which concern me.

    …. it’s important for my people that the Voice, Treaty, and Truth happen hand in hand. Each are important issues and there are arguments for them to be addressed individually, but nonetheless there is no reason why we can’t ask for all three, as one.

    There absolutely is a reason not to ask for Voice, Treaty and Truth at the same time. It is The Voice that is on the table now, with the rest to come later. By asking for all three now, it gives justification to the No voters who are already saying “I’m voting No because ATSI people want all three now, not just one.” If No triumphs in the referendum, the whole project will be set back for a generation at least.

    …. Mostly good news about state treaties underway. But that is different to Treaty at federal level so does “Voice and Treaty Must Happen Hand in Hand” refer to state and federal actions happening at the same time? Mixing state and federal isn’t helpful in terms of getting a Yes vote for The Voice.

    If, on the other hand, this is referring to the federal level, it is also unhelpful. Treaty is not on the table at the moment. At an info evening put on in Kooyong by Monique Ryan MP (who is voting Yes and campaigning via door-knocking and flyers for everyone in the electorate to vote Yes) Indigenous men Thomas Mayo and Marcus Stewart explained that Treaty is extremely complex and could take decades to be finalised. They made two points: (i) With whom will governments over time be negotiating Treaty? The Voice is the only logical option available. (ii) If Treaty comes first or is worked on in conjunction with the Voice, so many issues will go undealt with, or be dealt with badly, in the meantime until they are settled.

    …. Asking Indigenous peoples to simply elect one of their own democratically to sit in an extra chamber advising future government irrespective of what party wins elections. Isn’t a hard task to ask.

    However the Voice is legislated to work, there will be no extra chamber. The Voice is advisory – no vote, no veto. Just mentioning a new chamber is enough to substantially increase the number of No votes, as above.

    …. As a fifth generation Australian, I’m passionate about righting the wrongs of the past, to the extent that is possible. I can donate to and support Indigenous causes and enterprises. But my biggest contribution, as I see it, is to work for a Yes vote in the referendum. As I understand it, about 80% of those ATSI people involved in getting this far want a Yes vote for The Voice.

    “Anything” that causes confusion, even if well-meaning, works against success in that. You only have to look at all the negative comments where pro-Voice sentiments are expressed to know that success in the referendum is not a certainty. Clarity when advocating for The Voice is absolutely essential.

  2. Roswell

    I’m voting “Yes”.

    I’m disappointed, however, that since the Voice was proposed we’ve seen the ugly side of those supporting the “No” vote.

    Who gets the blame? Our First Nations people. The “What do they want now?” brigade have found a voice. Ironically, they don’t want Indigenous Australians to have one.

    There is much more I want than a Voice to Parliament. I want inequality addressed, more than anything.

    It’s our nation’s shame that after 200+ years Indigenous Australians have to fight for basic rights.

  3. Pingback: Voice and Treaty – Uta's Site

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