Tuesday, 10 October 2023
|Embracing the Voice: Australia’s path to unity and progress
The Voice referendum presents Australians with the moment to take our next unified step as a nation.
The Voice is about three simple – but extremely important – things: recognition, listening and achieving better outcomes together.
Right now our Constitution is silent when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and 65,000 years of culture and tradition. It’s time to fix that.
Constitutional recognition through a Voice is how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have asked to be recognised.
The Voice is about advice. When we listen to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the issues that impact them, we achieve better outcomes.
The Closing the Gap Framework highlights the areas where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience worse outcomes and, sadly, we are not achieving the progress we need.
Target 13 in particular deals with the significant rates of family violence and abuse too often experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children.
It calls for the rate of all forms of family violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children to be reduced by at least 50 per cent, by 2031.
Today, Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised because of violence than non-Indigenous women.
They report three times as many incidents of sexual violence as non-Indigenous women, and they are more likely to be killed due to assault.
I’m sure everyone would agree – this must end.
Because these are not just statistics, they are mothers, aunties, sisters and children – and the impacts ripple across generations.
Just a few weeks ago, I was listening to Joshua, whose eyes filled with tears as he spoke of the years of abuse his mother faced at the hands of men who professed to love her.
He spoke of the trauma he witnessed that continues to impact him into his adult life. The intergenerational impact of the abuse he witnessed.
Joshua’s mum, Aunty Sandra Creamer AM, turned her lived experience into action through leading the work on the first dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan.
It is the first plan to address violence against women and children in First Nations communities and was developed in true partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.
Listening to our Advisory Council, including Aunty Sandra Creamer, and other prominent First Nations leaders – along with people on the ground with lived experience – helped to guide us in the development of our Action Plans, launched just last month.
Through listening and reaching out to many people in communities we were able to achieve better results and better ways of working.
These include new ways of addressing violence – such as focusing on men’s healing. Healing and recovery is an important part of addressing violence, and for First Nations people, it is a holistic process that aims to address mental, physical, spiritual and emotional needs through reconnecting with culture, restoring safe and enduring relationships and supporting communities to create and lead change.
This is just one example of how listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can provide a new perspective to achieve better outcomes.
Some people might say if we are already listening to Indigenous leaders like Aunty Sandra Creamer on issues that impact First Nations people, then why do we need a Voice?
Firstly, and importantly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have asked for a Voice.
Through the Uluru Statement from the Heart – a one page document – more than 250 delegates from across the country came together to call for a constitutionally entrenched First Nations Voice to Parliament.
And secondly a Voice provides a permanent vehicle for advice to government from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on issues that disproportionately impact them.
Enshrining the Voice in the Constitution ensures that the Voice is above politics. A Voice enshrined in the Constitution will give advice in the long-term, rather than for electoral cycles.
If we want to close the gap we need a new perspective from communities and a consistency of advice that doesn’t chop and change with every election cycle.
A Voice or advisory body also cannot be truly independent or give frank and fearless advice if the government of the day can abolish it with the stroke of a pen. This is true in all areas where we see poorer outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – and particularly in the area of family safety.
If we want to achieve the goal of ending violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children within a generation – as the Commonwealth came together to commit to with states and territories in the National Plan – a Voice with a permanent vehicle for advice to government is needed.
There is nothing to fear – and everything to gain – from constitutional recognition through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.
It’s time to listen by voting YES.
This opinion piece was first published in Women’s Agenda on Tuesday 10 October 2023.