For Mudburra and Wagadagam woman, Natalie Ahmat, this year’s referendum on the Voice to Parliament will be one of the biggest events for indigenous affairs in Australia.
That’s why she is excited about the latest season of NITV’s The Point, which will showcase a nationwide tour across communities engaging in debate to help inform Australians about the upcoming Voice Referendum.
Ahmat, who was recently appointed Head of Indigenous News and Current Affairs at National Indigenous Television (NITV), said the goal of this season’s Referendum Road Trip was simple: to get out there and hear the most important voices in this conversation, which is First Nations people across the country.
“I think a lot of what we are hearing so far has been very much that the politics of it in Canberra, and rightly so as this bill passes through the relevant houses in Canberra… but as we move towards that referendum, we really want to showcase and platform the voices of indigenous people right across the country,” she told Women’s Agenda.
The show sees two of the country’s best journalists — proud Wuthathi and Meriam man John Paul Janke and Whadjuk Noongar woman Narelda Jacobs, visit every Australian state and territory, uncovering a wide range of attitudes across urban and regional communities, as well as remote communities.
Ahmat said it is still too early to tell whether there is majority support for the Referendum among Indigenous populations — the Torres Strait Islanders, for example, “have a very different perspective.”
“[They are] a group of people who, I think, sometimes feel like they’re a bit of a minority within a minority when you look at First Nations in this country,” Ahmat said.
“They’ve also recently, at the end of last year, released the massive statement: Voice from the Deep, which sets out their aspirations as Torres Strait Islanders. They’re going to have very different perspectives coming from the islands than they do from other parts of the country.”
She adds that there are people within indigenous Australia who, “…like other Australians, are kind of going, “you know what? We’d like to know a little bit more…who perhaps haven’t formed an opinion either.”
Ahmat, who has worked as a a journalist, producer and presenter for more than decade, said she is excited about sharing the variety of views, “because sometimes we, as First Nations people, all have very different perspectives on the voice to parliament, and what it means to us.”
“Not only will we get that diversity of viewpoints, but hopefully help inform people along the way as they make their decision about how they’re going to vote,” she said — adding that the show’s goal is not to tell anyone to vote a certain way, but instead, to listen and be open to hearing the voices of Aboriginal Australia.
“Let them tell you about how they feel about the voices,” she said. “It’s so easy to get swept up into the politics of it all and what comes out of the Canberra bubble.”
“Be informed before you go and cast your vote, whichever way you decide to vote.”
The first episode of the season aired on Tuesday, just 10 days after NITV’s hiatus from Twitter following a slur of racist comments. Ahmat attributed Stan Grant’s recent experience of racism and abuse — treatment she said is “quite common”, as reasons why the network has decided to take a break from Twitter.
“The referendum debate is gathering momentum and intensifying,” she said. “We just want to make sure that it’s culturally safe for our staff. It was a decision that was led by our First Nations-led senior leaders within the business, and supported by SBS.”
For now, Ahmet is busy preparing for the first community show up on the Straits this Saturday.
“It’ll feel like the road trip’s really started then after a couple of months of planning,” she said. “Ultimately, everyone, black and white, is going to have a vote…come October, November, or December, whenever it’s, we ultimately go to the ballot box.”
The Point: Referendum Road Trip airs weekly on NITV, Tuesday at 7.30pm from 30 May, on SBS at 10.30pm, and on SBS On Demand.