Australia’s most senior Indigenous politician, Linda Burney, has revealed that she underwent a medical procedure that has had an impact on her voice. Burney, who serves as the Minister for Indigenous Australians, shared that she had undergone heart surgery for an undisclosed condition in 2020, and subsequent treatment with medication resulted in a change in her speech. She now uses a kazoo or straw to expel excess air from her lungs before speaking engagements or parliamentary sessions.
Despite the change in her voice, Burney remains committed to her role and advocacy for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to be constitutionally established within Parliament. She has been maintaining a busy schedule, participating in regular speech therapy sessions and affirms that her health has been generally unaffected, besides the change in her chest.
Burney also humorously shared that one of the letters she had difficulty pronouncing after the procedure was the letter “L,” which is ironic given her name.
Amidst silence and rumors surrounding her health, Burney decided to address the issue, emphasizing that while it is not a topic she frequently discusses, she believes it is important for people to understand and have empathy for personal challenges, as life is not always smooth for everyone.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has appointed Burney to lead the government’s Voice referendum campaign. Australians will soon be asked to vote on whether they support recognizing Indigenous people as the First Australians in the constitution and establishing the Voice to Parliament, an independent body that would advise the government on matters affecting First Nations Australians.
Burney, who stood alongside Albanese when he committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, is focused on achieving a successful outcome for the referendum. While she refuses to comment on the potential consequences of a “No” vote, she believes a “Yes” vote would make Australians feel better about themselves and the country.
To achieve a successful referendum, Burney and campaigners will have to overcome historical challenges, as the majority of referendum proposals in Australia have failed. The Voice to Parliament was proposed following the 2017 Uluru constitutional convention, culminating in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which called for a Voice, truth-telling, and a Makarrata commission for treaty-making.
As Burney leads the campaign, she sees it as an opportunity for collaboration, urging the 97% majority of Australians to stand together with the 3.5% Indigenous population.