Pat Dodson, on the comeback from cancer, gives his voice to The Voice

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Aboriginal leader Senator Pat Dodson, recovering from months of treatment for cancer, is about to return to the front line of the campaign for a Yes vote for an Indigenous Voice to parliament.

He believes, he says, the Australian people will recognise “the goodness and the justice” of what the Voice would achieve when they vote in the referendum, and that they will turn away from the false propositions that it could divide Australia or subvert the primacy of the parliament.

Patrick Dodson sought to bridge two worlds.Credit: Andrew Taylor

He says he is also convinced a large majority of Indigenous Australians are in favour of the Voice.

Dodson, known as the ‘father of reconciliation’ for his role as founding chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in the 1990s, said he was unhappy that his battle with cancer had prevented him from taking a major public role in the Yes campaign.

However, he said it also saddened him that the debate had become dominated by politicians rather than ordinary Australians.

In particular, he was “appalled” that Peter Dutton’s Opposition had turned the issue into a political game that appeared designed to blame Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and cast him as a loser if the No vote defeated the referendum.

“It’s reprehensible,” he said.

Dodson said he was surprised by some of the views of the opposition spokeswoman on Indigenous Australians Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, including her claim that Aboriginal colonisation had improved the lives of Aboriginal people.

Dodson’s view of Price’s colonialism comment is that “it doesn’t add up”.

Dodson said Price, who is of Warlpiri-Celtic heritage, would have had kin killed in the Coniston massacre of 1928.

It is well documented that Northern Territory policeman William Murray led bloody attacks on Warlpiri, Anmatyerre and Kaytetye people in Central Australia from August to October that year.

The official death toll was 35, but historians believe the figure was closer to 200.

Dodson’s own voice will return to the fray next Wednesday, just three days before the referendum, when he is scheduled to appear at a National Press Club event broadcast from Broome, where he has been recovering from months of chemotherapy and other treatment.

The senator was diagnosed shortly before Easter this year with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which became life-threatening when he developed an infection of the oesophagus. He received his initial treatments at the Fiona Stanley Hospital, near Perth, but was able to return to his home in Broome between further treatments. His health became further complicated when he was attacked recently by the pain of shingles.

However, Dodson said his belief in ordinary Australians’ sense of fairness was undaunted.

Senator Patrick Dodson during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra in March.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

“There is nothing about the Voice to fear,” he said.

“It is simply a proposal for a system where Aboriginal people can provide advice to the parliament about our concerns.

“To vote No doesn’t take our nation forward. It leaves us with exactly the problems of today that everyone knows about, it amounts to a denial of Aboriginal people as this nation’s first people, and it will mean the continuation of assimilation policies that have been proven to be failures.”

A Yes vote, however, would provide the chance to for Aboriginal people to have a say in how to improve their lives, and would be to the benefit of the nation.

Dodson said he did not believe the message had yet seeped through the domestic community that Australia would be judged internationally as a modern democracy prepared, like other advanced nations, to recognise its first people in the constitution if the referendum was successful.

“I worry that many people tend to be distracted by some areas of social media that are dominated by confected arguments about what the Voice might or might not do.

“Most of it is simply not true.”

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