By HARRY CLARKE | EXCLUSIVE
THE mayor of one of Queensland’s most remote and underprivileged Indigenous communities says its residents are unaware of what the Voice to Parliament aims to achieve because no government or campaign representatives have visited the town or spoken about it with them directly.
Cr Richard Tarpencha is the elected mayor of the Pormpuraaw Aboriginal Shire Council, which services a small community of about 600 people on the remote western coastline of the Cape York Peninsula.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data indicates that less that 33 percent of Pormpuraaw residents who responded to the most recent Census were employed, while less than 48 percent of residents graduated from high school.
Slightly less than 50 percent of residents live in an “appropriately sized dwelling”, while only 31 percent of residents speak English at home.
Across all four metrics, Pormpuraaw is significantly below average compared to aggregated figures for Aboriginal communities across Cape York, according to ABS data.
The Caller visited Pormpuraaw on Sunday to ask residents for their perceptions and opinions about the proposed Voice to Parliament, and this month’s referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution.
Tarpencha, who was born in the Cape York Aboriginal community of Aurukun but has lived in Pormpuraaw since the age of three, said he was unsure about the nature of the Voice proposal.
“I don’t really know about the Voice,” he said.
“There’s no one from government came out and spoke to us about the Voice (sic), so we don’t really know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
When asked “what have you heard about it?” Tarpencha replied: “Nothing mate, just ‘the Voice'”.
“I don’t know really. I can’t see someone in parliament house to speak on behalf of your community (sic),” he said.
“I’ve heard of it but I don’t really know anything about it.”
Tarpencha said his community had long struggled with access to appropriate health care, education and employment.
“There’s gaps left right and centre that need to be filled – education, health and all those things – employment. We need, really, proper jobs for our local people.
“The worst thing that’s (affecting) Pormpuraww is health and education I think.
When asked whether residents of Pormpuraaw had been discussing the Voice during the lead-up to the October 14 referendum, Tarpencha said: “Nah not really”.
“No one’s even bothering about it, I think. They’re just waiting for the voting and everything to happen.
“They poured so much dollars and so quick to create it and set up the committees, when the dollar should be hitting the community for better education outcomes.
“It could have been spent with education and health.”
Neither Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s office, nor the media team for the Yes23 campaign, replied to the Caller‘s request for their responses to Tarpencha’s comments.
Bob and Robbie Katter, state and federal MPs whose electorates of Kennedy and Traegar cover large parts of remote North Queensland, said in a joint statement that their visit last week to Aurukun, Pormpuraaw and Doomadgee revealed to them a lack of understanding about the Voice.
“Limited access to fresh and healthy produce due to distance and freight costs, shocking overcrowding in houses, and reduced opportunities for work due to Blue Card issues were among the key issues raised by on-the-ground residents,” the statement said.
“Unless prompted, no one spoke about a Voice to Parliament and there was a general sense of confusion towards the Canberra-based concept on the ground.”
The Katter Australia Party representatives said they “weren’t surprised by the disinterest” in the Voice within the communities as they “struggled to reconcile the idea with solutions to the many practical issues they have been trying to highlight for years”.