I write knowing that there is a lot of ‘Voice’ fatigue out there. But I write knowing that this is probably the most important call we as Australians have had to make in my life time. I write, knowing that by doing so I will lose friends. But this is so important, so important I am willing to risk this. I also write, knowing that Australians at their core are good people and that if they know what this is truly about, they will vote for nobility, pride and unity for all.
What are we voting about on October 14th.? It is simple, oh so simple but profound. The statement that we will say ‘yes’ to is:
In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:
- There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
- The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
- The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.
What is in bold above is what we are voting for or against. It could not be more simple. Firstly we are simply (but this is powerful and highly symbolic) recognising that our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were and are the First Peoples of Australia. There have been calling Australia home for over 65,000 years. My Welsh and German ancestors have been here for about 153 years! No more or no less – we are simply saying they are the first human inhabitants of this beautiful land. The key word in the sentence is recognition. No more – no less!! But recognition is powerful.
I was recently listening to a talk given by Noel Pearson. Noel simply said, “97% of Australians will think my ancestors once called Germany home, or Ireland, or England, or China or Greece, or Italy, or Vietnam etc and they will, on occasion, travel to visit their family in those countries”. And rightly so we should. My ancestors once lived in Alsace Lorraine on the border between France and Germany. Others of my ancestors lived in Wales. But Noel said, “But for Aboriginal people, this thought never crosses their mind – for the only home they have and have ever had is this continent we call Australia!” This vote simply recognises that!
The vote then simple names there shall be a body. Again, we have nothing to fear but everything to gain here. The make up of this body, its functions, powers and procedures shall be decided by our Parliament!
Then, in point two and this is vital. The body MAY make representations to the Parliament and Executive Government. No more, no less. They MAY make representations! They can’t order, they can’t demand, they can’t legislate, they can’t enforce. This body may make representations – no more, no less.
And then, and despite all the fear mongering out there – what may they make representations about, “matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples!” If you cut to the core, they may make representations about Indigenous health, about Indigenous education, about Indigenous customs and language, lore and employment. This body can’t legislate about these matters – simply make representations to the Parliament about them.
Let’s not over cook this. I have worked in education for almost fifty years. It is like the Principal setting up a small body of Primary school teachers who MAY make representation to the Principal in matters pertaining to what directly effects the primary students. No more, no less. Simple!
But it is profound and vitally important. It is highly symbolic. For, in this case, it is not simply primary school teachers but our First People’s saying that central to our healing of relationship with non-Aboriginal Australians, and central to effective ‘closing of the gap’ in health care and education and employment, is for them to have a voice at a table in matters that directly effect them. It is both common sense and right relationship.
Our Yes on October 14 will leave us more noble, more free and more united in truth and love.