By Liz Bell and Keith Platt
MOST Mornington Peninsula Shire Councillors are remaining tight lipped about how they will vote in the upcoming Voice referendum.
At the 5 September council meeting, around 30 local residents, including two indigenous elders, called on the council to support three questions given without notice – one from Marg D’Arcy and two from former Voices of Mornington Peninsula-backed independent candidate for the seat of Flinders Dr Sarah Russell.
However, Russell said the CEO’s response was “dismissive” and similar to what a “spokesperson” from the council said to an ABC journalist.
Russell said the residents had asked the council to publicly support the Yes vote at the upcoming referendum, requesting that councillors “show leadership” by tabling a motion to “support changing the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. We also support council encouraging council employees and volunteers and those operating from council owned facilities showing public support for a Yes vote through wearing badges, t-shirts and/or displaying signs.”
The question noted that councillors who support it “will be on the right side of history”.
The residents also invited councillors to attend Yes23’s walk on 17 September.
Russell said the group was unceremoniously shut down from further discussing the question.
Council documentation states that the aim of public question time is to give an opportunity for the public to ask general questions at meetings. Questions with notice are given a considered response by a council officer or CEO, while questions without notice will receive a written response within seven days and published on the shire’s website.
Aboriginal woman and chair of the Mornington Peninsula Yes23 steering group, Kayla Cartledge, said the group behind the questions had filled the room with “a respectful presence”.
“We wanted to get in front of council to ask them the question, ‘Will you support the Yes vote’ “, she said.
Cartledge said those attending the meeting wanted to get the referendum on the council and councillors’ radar.
“We want the council and councillors to know we are here and what we expect from them.”
Marg D’Arcy said Mornington Peninsula has one of the largest Aboriginal populations in the southern region.
“The expired council’s Reconciliation Action Plan noted that the council is committed to listening to and learning from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including elders and young people, to ensure that our efforts directly support the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” she said.
“Given this action plan, I am very disappointed that the council has not publicly supported a Yes vote to change the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.”
Dr Sarah Russell noted that at least 12 other councils had supported changing the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
“Greater Dandenong councillors, for example, voted in May to support a Yes vote for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament”, Russell said.
“Yet no MPSC councillor has yet moved a notice of motion for council to make a statement supporting the Yes vote.
“The referendum will shape the future of our nation. Residents expect politicians, including local councillors, to show leadership. So, I simply asked, ‘Why has MPSC chosen not to take a public position on supporting an Indigenous Voice to Parliament?’, I did not receive an explicit answer to this question.
“My second question asked whether the councillors would agree to vote on the following statement in recognition of the expressed wish of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for changing the constitution: We support changing the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?”
Russell said local councillors were public figures who residents looked to for leadership.
After being emailed by The News, only mayor Cr Steve Holland and Cr Antonelli Celi revealed their voting intentions.
Cr Steve Holland said he would vote ‘No’.
“I don’t believe it is appropriate for the shire to take a formal position on this issue. It is up to each individual Australian citizen to decide how they will vote and they should be able to do that without undue influence,” he said.
Cr Antonella Celi said she supported the current shire position of “a conscience vote for our community”.
Cr Debra Mar said she had previously “made it clear to the community” how she would personally vote, and said it was “not in the interest of this council to state a position, one way or the other and influence our communities which way to vote”.
The council’s website states that “it is up to each individual to seek out the arguments for and against the proposal and to vote according to their conscience”.