The Voice is about recognition and consultation

25 February 2023

This piece was first published in Canberra Daily on Saturday 25 February 2023. 

Australia recently marked the 15th anniversary of The Apology for the wrongs committed against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

I remember watching as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised for the government policies that inflicted so much suffering on the first people of this continent.

It was a moment of sadness and reflection, but also of great hope for Australia’s journey of reconciliation.

And a watershed moment that provides inspiration as we embark on the Voice referendum this year.

Along with The Apology, the Rudd Government also pledged to close the gap – the gap in life expectancy, in educational achievement, and in economic opportunity that stubbornly exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.

There has been progress in areas such as babies born with a healthy birthweight, and children enrolled in pre-school, but we need to do better in areas like out-of-home care, imprisonment rates, and the almost decade life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

History teaches us that better policies are created when those affected have their voices heard.

That’s why the referendum this year is so important.

When Australians go to the polls later this year, they will be asked to change the constitution to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.

The Voice is about two things: recognition and consultation. Recognition of Indigenous Australians in the nation’s birth certificate, the Constitution, and consultation, giving First Nations Australians a say in the policies that impact them.

There has been a lot of misinformation circulated already about what enshrining a Voice would mean.

To be clear: the Voice will not have a veto and will not affect sovereignty.

It will be an advisory body, made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians chosen by their community, who will provide advice to Parliament and Government on issues affecting First Nations communities.

It will deliver practical change on the ground in areas like health, housing and education.

This isn’t Labor’s plan, or that of any politician, but the request of First Nations Australians themselves.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was a generous invitation from First Nations Australians formed after a long process of consultation.

It calls for three things – Voice, Treaty and Truth.

Labor is committed to all three elements and we invite all Australians to again join together to take the next steps towards reconciliation.

In the coming months, I look forward to facilitating opportunities for Canberrans to continue this important conversation in the lead up to the referendum.

I also encourage you all to speak with your friends, family and colleagues about how the Voice will help us recognise Australia’s First peoples and make a practical difference for their communities.

A Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is a once-in-a-generation chance to address the injustices of the past and create a better future. It could be a unifying moment for our nation.

Australians can answer this generous invitation by voting Yes for the Voice.

This piece was first published in Canberra Daily on Saturday 25 February 2023.