Interim Report to the Australian Government: Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process January 2021
I welcome the opportunity to respond to the Indigenous Voice Discussion Paper.
I make this submission for the following reasons:
I am a woman of non-Aboriginal background living on Gadigal land of the Eora nation – land that was never ceded and for which a treaty with the original owners was never made.
Some of my ancestors arrived from England in the mid-1860s and settled in northern NSW. Almost certainly they contributed to the mistreatment and demise of Aboriginal people in the area. While obviously not directly responsible for my ancestors’ actions, I believe I carry some responsibility to improve on the situation now.
I lived my formative years in NSW country towns and saw but did not then understand the disadvantage of Aboriginal people living in very impoverished outer areas of those towns.
In the 1990s while at university I studied Aboriginal “contact history” – ie, relationships between First Nations people and European settlers from 1788. I was, to say the least, appalled at what I learnt.
Most recently in the last five years, I have visited Alice Springs and Santa Teresa a number of times and been privileged to meet and spend time with some Aboriginal people of all ages in these areas – at schools, socially and on country. I have seen the difficulties, challenges and progress being made, particularly in Santa Teresa.
In 2019, along with a large number of others, I undertook a trip led by Aboriginal people to the towns along the Baaka River to witness first-hand the devastation to these places (Walgett, Brewarinna, Wilcannia, Bourke, Menindee Lakes ) not only from drought but importantly, by upstream harvesting of water by big agriculture and water speculators. I witnessed first-hand accounts of the continuing negative impacts on the culture and general lives of the Aboriginal people in these towns contributed to largely by deliberate, inequitable harvesting of water.
These learnings and experiences have opened my eyes to the continuing injustices and inequities endured by First Nations people and reinforce for me the conviction that we as a nation must change our thinking into positive, meaningful and lasting action.
RECOGNITION of the rights of our First Nations People is central to my concerns.
It is pretty clear that over two centuries of non-Indigenous settlement has led to dispossession, massacres, consistent mistreatment, humiliation and marginalisation despite efforts by different Aboriginal groups in various parts of Australia to gain recognition and despite efforts by a number of non-Aboriginal individuals, groups and movements supporting them.
There is little point blaming First Nations people for their social dislocation, general poverty, lack of employment opportunities, poor health and housing, negative impacts on children and young people, crime rates, and relatively high suicide rates without seriously acknowledging that their situations have arisen from intergenerational dispossession, discrimination, neglect and abuse.
I acknowledge however that simply throwing money at various communities or targeted projects is not the solution.
Therefore I believe the time is long overdue for past injustices towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be recognised. Australians generally must demonstrate respect, restore dignity and - once and for all - enshrine fundamental, legal rights to our First Nations people. Without enshrined recognition, this country will remain mired in wilful blindness to settlement history and the reasons behind deprivation and continuing manifestations of it.
3. The call
I support A Voice to Parliament and the three demands made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that is:
1. The government must honour its election commitment to a referendum once the model for the Voice has been settled;
2.Enabling legislation for the Voice must be passed after a referendum has has been held in the next term of Parliament; and
3.The membership model for the National Voice must ensure previously unheard Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the same chance of being selected as established leadership figures.
I believe A Voice to Parliament will empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, allowing them to take ownership and responsibility for the challenges they face, and work constructively with governments from any political party to develop the laws and policies needed to Close the Gap.
As Noel Pearson has said:
“It is about the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution, which empowers the parliament to legislate the voice to parliament as the means by which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are recognised in the nation.” (https://fromtheheart.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/17-March-NMA-Spe… )
4. Summary and Conclusion
Put simply, this is a call for justice, fairness, equity - inclusion that all Australians surely expect or hope for. How can we as a nation in all conscience continue without according these values to our fellow Australian brothers and sisters?
I strongly believe that a majority of non-Aboriginal Australians are ready for this recognition and fair treatment of our First Nations people. With full support from each State Government as well as the Federal Government, a successful referendum is highly possible.
This nation’s progress is at a crossroads – we cannot leave it like this. The time is long overdue for positive, lasting action.
30 March 2021