16 September 2023

Opinion piece: Yes to recognition, better listening and better outcomes


Published in the Gold Coast Bulletin

The Voice is about constitutional recognition, better listening and better outcomes. It’s as simple and straightforward as that.

Over the next few weeks in the lead up to the 14 October referendum, we will hear a lot about what the Voice is not about. That’s because some of those who are opposed are relying on distraction, diversion and deception.

The stirring up of division, false claims and scare tactics are disappointing but not a surprise. We’ve seen this play out many times before.

There were dire predictions surrounding the 1992 Mabo High Court decision as well as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations.

The fearmongers told us these events would see Australians turn against each other, threaten our prosperity, and undermine the fundamentals of our society.

The predictions of course were proven to be completely and utterly wrong. In each case, important progress was made on our nation’s journey towards reconciliation.

Afterwards many Australians looked at each other and said “what was the fuss all about? Why didn’t we do that earlier?”

The referendum for a Voice to Parliament is another one of these key moments.

The Voice will be a committee made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from every state and territory, the Torres Strait and regional and remote communities.

Parliament and Government will still remain responsible for all laws, programs and funding. But by listening to the voices of Indigenous Australia, we can make better decisions, get better results and deliver better value for money.

This is an idea that came from First Nations people. In 2017, after many years of work and countless conversations in every part of the country, nearly 250 leaders and elders endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

It called for recognition in the Constitution through a Voice to Parliament.

The calls for change have grown louder as it’s become clearer Australia’s current approach to Indigenous affairs isn’t working.

Outcomes for health, education and employment all still lag far behind for First Nations people.

This is despite the best of intentions and significant government resources spent over many decades.

We need to do things differently if we are to close the considerable gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Some pretend Australians are being asked to choose between their pragmatism and their principles, between having a hard head and having a warm heart. But the Voice shows that what works and what’s right are not mutually exclusive.

As my wonderful colleague Linda Burney says, for too long governments have made policies for Indigenous Australians, not with Indigenous Australians.

The Voice will help change that. It’s about listening to people who have been the custodians of this land for 65,000 years so that we can deliver better outcomes together.

We shouldn’t kick the can down the road and leave this issue to our kids or our grandkids to sort out.

By failing to act, the generational opportunity that we’ll have in October will instead become a generational buck pass.

The 14 October referendum is our opportunity to get this done.

I realise the Yes campaign faces an uphill battle over the coming weeks.

Good things are often hard to do.

But people shouldn’t underestimate the ability and willingness of Australians to make a change for the better. With the help of 35,000 volunteers giving up their time to have conversations across the country, I feel confident we can come together and make this happen.

I believe more and more Australians will choose to grasp the hand that has been stretched generously out to them.

By voting yes, we can get constitutional recognition, listen better and deliver better outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

By voting yes, we can move forward in a spirit of respect and optimism.

By voting yes, we can shape a better future together.