“Jesus is the Way Forward”: Indigenous Christian Leaders Speak Following the Referendum

Various emotions have followed the failed 2023 referendum. Indigenous Christian leaders give their reflections on the referendum and offer a way forward for the country.

Like most referendums in Australia, the 2023 one was met with a defeat (only 8 out of 44 have ever been passed). Currently, the vote count sits at 39.3% for Yes and 60.7% for No. Those figures will adjust a little once all the postal votes have been counted.

The Canberra Declaration does not have an official position on the Voice. Our editorial policy was to allow writers to articulate their own thoughts.

As it turned out, our writers (all our Indigenous writers and nearly all our non-Indigenous ones) independently came to oppose the Voice.

Recognition and the Voice Should Not Have Been Joined Together

The referendum question conflated two issues: (1) Indigenous recognition in the Constitution and (2) the Voice to Parliament. The 2023 referendum presented recognition only on the basis that you had to approve the Voice.

Recognition, of course, involves the concept of identity – at least at some level. Therefore, it is easy to see how the rejection of the referendum has led to feelings of rejection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This is incredibly unfortunate and tragic. The two issues should never have been conflated in this way.

We cannot change yesterday, but we can work for a better tomorrow. The Church is now faced with the question of how we respond and move forward from here.

Recently, Indigenous Christian leaders were asked that very question in two Daily Declaration podcasts. Watch below as they speak their minds and express their hearts.

Here is an overview of their thoughts.

Podcast 1: The Way Forward After the Voice: Indigenous Leaders on Healing, Prayer & Unity

Gloria Watkins

Gloria was very strong that God was not behind the Voice. There were other issues surrounding the Voice that were far deeper than what was actually said.

One fundamental disagreement she had with the Voice was that it could speak on her behalf. She replies, “No one else speaks on behalf of me and my family.”

Ultimately, “God’s voice is the most important voice to listen to.”

But regardless of someone’s position on the Voice, God’s people must come together in unity. The Church has a responsibility to display that to the world. The sweetness of God is found in coming together as one, rather than division.

Encouragingly, Gloria believes there are good days ahead for Australia. There will still be challenges. But there will be “beautiful fruit out of what God is going to do next for [Aboriginal] people”.

One suggestion was for a gathering, in Canberra, for Christian Aboriginal voices to be heard. Right now, the Christian Indigenous voice is simply falling on deaf ears.

Gloria is proud to be an Australian. She carried the Australian flag at the World Prayer Assembly in Perth and said her heart melts when she sees the red, white and blue of the Australian flag because God’s hand is on our nation.

James Dargin

As he prayed about the Voice over eight months ago, James felt that it was not good. Most importantly, he didn’t see the message of forgiveness and unity coming through. That message is central to the mission God has given him.

James believes the Voice is an attempt to distract people from the government’s desire for Australia to become a republic. Australia’s national sovereignty protects all Australians – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – and we must not let any of that be ceded to the UN.

James expressed further concern over the rejection of Senator Jacinta Price’s motion for a royal inquiry into the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children. If Price’s voice could be shut down, what would the Voice respond? Undoubtedly, her voice in Parliament would be even further marginalised.

Estelle Walker

Estelle expressed hurt that people were voting No out of an anti-Aboriginal sentiment. There is still a long way to go to break down barriers.

She is proud of her Aboriginal identity. Consequently, when people look at her differently because she is Aboriginal – that hurts.

While voting No herself, Estelle is disappointed about the reasons others voted No. A lot of the No vote comes from wrong motives and racism. For some, it was based on a fear that their land would be taken, instead of being based on what was best for Aboriginal people.

There are dark, anti-Aboriginal parts of our history, and not everyone is aware of that. Estelle asks,

“Yes, we’ve got to forgive, and I have… But why should I be the only one to forgive?”

Fundamentally, the question remains: What are we doing to bring healing and bridge the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people?

Peter Walker

Peter holds to the promise of 1 Chron 7:14, that if God’s people humble themselves, turn from wicked ways and pray, then God will forgive their sins and heal their land. This verse was even printed on the rear of his new vehicle that Canberra Declaration helped purchase!

It’s that promise from God in 1 Chron 7:14 that holds the key for the future:

“That is still as much today, I believe, for our nation. It’s going back to basics that God wants to bring healing to this land.”

Barbara Miller

Barbara has been at the forefront of truth-telling about Aboriginal history. She is a prolific writer on Christian Indigenous and non-Indigenous history.

But with the Voice, it came to a turning point. She felt we were asked to put something in the Constitution that was going to divide our nation by race. Barbara has worked for years to deal with segregation and to advance equality. She believes the Voice was the opposite of that.

Galatians 3:28 – that all believers are equal together in Christ – is a foundational biblical truth that can’t be compromised.

Barbara voiced concern that identity politics, an expression of cultural Marxism, has come in and poisoned the debate. Cultural Marxism operates on a victim-oppressor narrative, where a person is a victim forever. Since Marxism is a power struggle, a restructuring of power doesn’t bring any real positive change. Instead, the oppressor and victim groups simply switch places.

“With cultural Marxism and identity politics, you can never be forgiven… There is no salvation.”

But as Christians “we know that Jesus has paid the price.”

“White people don’t have to stay in guilt forever… That is not a Christian worldview. We have to work in repentance and forgiveness on both sides.”

John Kennedy

John found the Voice debate very confusing as there was a lot being claimed both ways. During the same-sex marriage debate and vote in 2017, he noticed that there was little voice raised in the Church.

However, during the 2023 referendum, a lot was said. This was personally confronting, as it communicated that the Church showed higher agreement with ‘same-sex marriage rights’ than over the wellbeing of Aboriginal people. He found this to be hypocritical.

It also breaks his heart when people talk about the social problems found in some Aboriginal communities. It paints a broad brush against the whole group of Aboriginal people. He disagreed with the No vote and voted Yes.

John’s experience in growing up in an Aboriginal community was far removed from the stereotype being presented. To be fair, Tingha is one of the most beautiful Indigenous communities in NSW.

Trish Botha

Trish’s point was simple: “The government doesn’t have the answers for us. Only Jesus does.” We can’t look to man for the answers. The most important thing for Aboriginal people is to keep their eyes on God. In her words, her mission is to keep

“… that message strong with the Aboriginal people that we return to our Creator.”

Trish raised the concern that the Church has been weak on spiritual matters that really impact Aboriginal communities. For the Church to be effective in bringing healing to people, it must reclaim its spiritual authority. The Church has become comfortable but must reject this if it is to move forward.

Podcast 2: The Healing Power of the Cross: Indigenous Christian Leader Petrina Neufeld with Warwick Marsh


Petrina Neufeld

Petrina comes at the brokenness in our nation through one avenue: the cross. She uses her own past journey of brokenness to bring healing to others.

Petrina spent many years seeking psychological and medical professionals to deal with brokenness in her life. But it didn’t work. Now, instead of relying on human wisdom and thinking, she finds freedom in the cross.

That same principle applies on a national level.

“Instead of looking at the government for solutions, we are to turn and face the source of the real solution for every problem that exists… That is, to return to the cross.”

“The cross is shining brightly, and God invites us to begin a journey of brokenness. To bring us to a place of humility where we say to ourselves, ‘We don’t have the solutions’.”

Jesus is the Way Forward for All Australians

Christians hold various views on many different topics, including political ones.

But one thing we unite on was said so succinctly by Trish:

“I’ve been involved in politics. It’s not the answer. But Jesus is.”

And with Jesus, Petrina gives this message of hope:

“While there is Jesus, there is hope for this nation. We proclaim the message of the gospel which has the power to save. It’s the only way we are going to bring all people in this nation to a place of unity.”

Canberra Declaration Position

Our last email on this subject before the referendum we shared with you and gave you three articles in favour of the YES vote and three articles in favour of the NO vote. This was to help you make your own prayerful decision regarding how you would vote.

We proudly share these videos featuring our Indigenous brothers and sisters in Christ sharing their opinion re the Voice referendum both for and against. We all need to hear their voice better than we do.

Our task ahead is to pray for national healing and unity after the referendum. Sadly, the Albanese Labor Government promoted division in how they framed the questions. The referendum process was poorly handled by the government of the day, to say the least.

In an article titled “Warren Mundine Hits Back”,

Indigenous Leader Warren Mundine has hammered the Yes camp after they accused Australians of committing a “shameful act” when voting No in the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum.

The explosive accusations were penned in an open letter by a group of Indigenous Yes supporters which took aim at the Coalition and No supporters Jacinta Price and Mundine after a week of silence following the referendum defeat.

The proposed Voice to Parliament was overwhelmingly rejected by Australia a little more than a week ago, prompting members of the Yes camp to engage in a media blackout for a week after the result.

Mundine has responded after they broke their silence, labelling the letter a “disgraceful attack on Australia and Australian people.”

The Australian public made it quite clear that they wanted to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders recognised in the Constitution as first (nations) people, but they rejected the Voice and they rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart because it wasn’t going to fix the things that needed to be fixed.”

Let us continue to pray for healing and oneness for our nation through Christ. As Trish said, “Jesus is the answer.” Together in prayer we can make a difference.


Photo by Ryan Delfin.

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  1. Countess Antonia Maria Violetta Scrivanich 25 October 2023 at 11:34 am - Reply

    James Dargin voted “No”. He is right to fear Australia becoming a republic and loss of sovereignity to the UN. I respect tooJohn Kennedy who voted “Yes “because he considered “hypocritical ” the silence of the churches regarding Same Sex Marriage and its lack of help to the Aboriginal community .
    We have to make sure this government is held to account for its failure to solve the Aboriginal problems , especially as it vetoed Senator Jacinta Price’s recent Motion which showed it has no intention to do so !

  2. Carol 25 October 2023 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    Bless you Gloria, I had tears listening to share your heart for Australia, and that we are one together in God, and because of what God has done for us.
    How the corrupt media drowned out the testimonies of the indigenous people who love God and wanted to speak up against the corruption of the evil one, and what’s being pushed in Australia by our Government.
    WE must continue to pray for the continuance of the gospel and spiritual healing to reach the communities that the Government has turned its backed on.

  3. Dorothy McCredie 25 October 2023 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    I was very blessed to hear your message and realise the simplicity of it, but also the complexity of applying it to our own situation. It points up the necessity of bringing our sinful ways to the Cross for forgiveness and repentance of God’s Grace and His Mercy to be applied to it. Then we take the next step and be thankful and worship Him.

  4. Andrea 25 October 2023 at 11:07 pm - Reply

    These are such precious interviews, allowing us to hear the hearts and experiences of our indigenous brothers and sisters, (and Barbara, who beautifully bridges both cultures). Just want to say, we love you guys. Our hearts are definitely for you. We long to be one family with you, at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, where in brokenness our past is dealt with, as we fix our eyes on Jesus our sure hope for unity and oneness.

  5. Barbara Miller 26 October 2023 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    I am blessed by your comments and no doubt your prayers

  6. Vivienne Williams 28 October 2023 at 10:19 am - Reply

    The “Voice” a tool to divide, how can we come together if we have special clauses to show we are different. The whole time of the debate and ad campaign I questioned, whatever happened to “We Are One” a beautiful song that made me feel proud to call Australia home.

  7. Warwick Marsh 29 October 2023 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    This is a comment from a dear friend more relating to the shocking state of the nation than this article but worthy of a wider read! . ” Similar to the wingless chickens being engineered to produce more white meat, such is an entire generation of Australians being engineered to remove any and all moral clarity. God’s word is no longer the standard. It has been supplanted by whatever is popular.

    As evidenced by the morally confused Australian Labor Party/Greens/Teals defense of the excruciatingly evil Hamas.

    Just like the wingless chickens so too have leftist youth, politicians, media professionals, academics and even some church leaders proven this analogy by defending fundamentalist Islamists who viciously murder innocent civilians, hide behind women and children, crucify homosexuals, behead transexuals, force women into the perpetual darkness of illiteracy and deny them sexual gratification, even in marriage.

    Frightening to consider just what delights the next generation of engineered, morally confused, brain-addled, hypocritical, leftist puppets will foster upon us all. Unless of course the men in Australia’s churches decide to rely upon God’s never-changing truth and fight for their families (Neh 4:14).

    Jack Sonnemann, Dir Australian Federation for the Family

    God bless you Jack Sonnemann. You are a living legend!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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