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Sun. May 26th, 2024

There is really something quite extraordinary about the collusion between Armidale Regional Council members to vote down a motion put forward by the only Anaiwan man on Council to recognise Indigenous owners of the land on signs as you enter the LGA. 

Especially just days before Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week. Two events I note Armidale Regional Council did nothing to mark or acknowledge. 

Recognition of Aboriginal ownership of land is not a controversial thing. Businesses do it in their email signatures, people do it in their social media bios, and the acknowledgement of country is pro-forma. 

Perhaps that’s the problem? People just do it without really understanding or appreciating it? Like saying ‘I love you’ to the spouse you’re cheating on, the words are empty and meaningless.

Brad Widders is a politician I have followed and admired for some time. I tried to convince him to run against Barnaby Joyce as an independent some years ago, but he was too modest and focused on delivering for his people locally to be tempted by the bigger stage so early in his political career. The level of racist nonsense and clear disrespect he was shown by fellow Council members in his first term used to make me sick – and I am very saddened to see that behaviour return. 

Although this time I think it is worse, because of the behaviour of Mayor Sam Coupland. This stunt man who likes to set the stage before he walks into the room had rigged the vote, clear as day. You don’t need to be a political operative of my level to see the condescension he directs towards Widders and clear influence over other Councillors he brazenly displays in the meeting recording.  

And yet, this is where we are. With another ineffective and useless Council in Armidale controlled by weak and ineffectual people, and the one clarion voice with natural leadership ability is belittled and bullied. 

But if we step out for a moment from the specifics of this case, the one thing this situation demonstrates is why we need to vote ‘Yes’ on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. To be clear, Widders himself is very cautious in not telling people to vote yes or no – he urges people to read up and make up their own mind – this is my opinion. 

But if a bunch of whitefellas can have a traditional owner quite literally at the table, and still disrespect them, talk over them, and rubbish their opinions and years of hard work in consulting their people, over something as tiny as acknowledging traditional owners on a hat full of signs, then we are desperately in need of a game-changing reset at the very heart of our democracy. 

And I know all the concerns about what the Voice will look like, what powers they will have and so on – but the reality is that all that will be determined by parliament. The referendum and constitutional change simply ensures that there will be a voice… and no narcissistic whitefella can get rid of it. No Sam Coupland can come along and stack the vote to make it go away. 

Armidale Regional Council will need to reconcile with its own racism and explain to ratepayers why they haven’t done this eminently sensible and logical thing of acknowledging those with recognised land claims in the LGA. And while they generally don’t listen to the ratepayers on anything, we can vote Yes to the referendum this year, and then vote this Council out next year.