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  • Writer's pictureSerena O'Meley

Who sets the agenda on Aboriginal matters at Darebin Council?

Updated: May 6, 2023

The Albanese government has tied its political fortunes to the Voice to Parliament Referendum and has been running an intense campaign for its promotion. One element of the ALP's strategy is to get the endorsement of local governments for the 'yes' campaign. This agenda played out at the Darebin Council meeting on Monday, 24 April 2023, in the form of a controversial motion which put council's own Aboriginal advisory body offside.

Labor-aligned councillor, Emily Dimitriadis initiated a Notice of Motion regarding the Voice Referendum. The public gallery was filled with Labor supporters in anticipation of the debate. The trouble is that Cr Dimitriadis did not arrange for the motion to be tabled at a meeting of the Darebin Aboriginal Advisory Committee (DAAC), which is a requirement of council's consultation protocols, before proposing the motion to council. I understand that she was approached by multiple councillors, including from her own party, to withdraw the Notice of Motion. She refused.

This saw the Darebin Aboriginal Advisory Committee produce a superb collective statement describing their more than 20 year contribution of recommendations and advice to council, and asserting their right to self-determination. It's troubling that they had to question, "Who sets the agenda on Aboriginal matters?"

In an astonishing move, Cr Dimitriadis made multiple attempts to stop the Mayor, Cr Julie Williams, from reading out the statement, thus challenging both the authority of the Mayor and of DAAC. She also interrupted the Mayor part way through the reading to quibble over one of the sentences in the statement, as if the statement itself were part of the debate. The irony of silencing Aboriginal voices while trying to promote the Voice to Parliament seemed completely lost on her.

It would appear that Cr Dimitriadis' motion, which was seconded by Cr Tim Laurence, was intended to use the positions of multiple outside organisations to put pressure on council's own Aboriginal advisory body to rush to publicly endorse a 'yes' vote in the Referendum (see item 11.6 in the Agenda).

Cr Dimitriadis interrupts the Mayor who is reading out a statement from DAAC.

Despite the fact that the Darebin Aboriginal Advisory Committee had plainly stated that, "This motion is unnecessary, unwelcomed and uninvited," Cr Dimitriadis pressed on with debate until it was shut down by a procedural motion put by independent, Cr Lina Messina, to defer the item to the 28 August 2023 council meeting. Every single other member of the council, including Cr Laurence, then voted in support of the procedural motion, with only Cr Dimitriadis abstaining. Most of the Labor supporters, who had been waiting impatiently for hours in the public gallery for the item to be debated, then stomped out of the room while venting their frustration on the way. Kudos to the one Labor supporter who stayed behind to learn more about the issues. Consultation matters and consent matters; remember that we are talking about the establishment of a new national body that is intended to fundamentally change the way Aboriginal politics is done in this country. Aboriginal people should have always had a genuine opportunity to form their collective views about these issues before a national campaign was imposed on them.

A video of this section of the Darebin Council meeting can be viewed here: . (The agenda item starts at 3hrs 8mins).

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