Submissions: Your Feedback

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Submission Number
Jane Bennett
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript

Jane Bennett
Collaroy NSW 2097

Dear Co-Design Body

Co-design process: Submission for Jane Bennett

I am Australian born in Sydney. My father served in WWII on a radar station on
Wessel Island and I am still connected to the Yolngu family that adopted him
back then. I visit regularly and we keep in touch by phone and consider each
other family/kin. I have worked with Aboriginal Health as Director of NSW for the
Australian Government Department of Health and was previously Director of
Capacity Building for the Natural Resource Management Joint Team working with
the Indigenous Land Management Facilitators. I have managed the First Peoples
program at Caritas Australia where I was able to visit and work with a number of
Aboriginal NGOs and visionaries addressing entrenched and seemingly
intractable social determinants of wellbeing with faith and vigour. I am a graduate
of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation and have been a Jawun secondee
in the East Kimberly. I have participated in numerous intercultural negotiations
and workshops both as a private citizen and through my work. I have worked as a
consultant assisting Aboriginal Community Controlled organisations (including
AMS Redfern) with strategic planning and governance management and
recovery with Why Warriors Organisation. I have visited numerous remote
communities and outstations and consider that I have listened to and learned
much from Aboriginal people from many nations. Their forgiveness, patience,
tolerance, warmth and love have given me much strength and helped me
understand more deeply what it is to be Australian and human.

Why do you think the Uluru Statement from the Heart is important?
The Uluru Statement of the Heart is not only an eloquent and powerful message
from the oldest continuing civilisation on the planet, but an expression of intent
and detente from peoples who have been subject to more than two centuries of
violent and devastating colonial trauma and cultural clash amounting to
attempted genocide. My own forbears were early missionaries and I can read the
words of my ancestor in the Mitchell Library. His attempts to rouse the anti-
slavery movement to the cause of the Australian Aboriginal people contributed
(with all the best intentions) to the establishment of the position of Protector of
Aborigines. We cannot allow reliance on non-Aboriginal public servants to
continue to impose their well-intentioned but misguided cultural assumptions and
social control on Aboriginal communities any more. The damage has been and
continues to be immeasurable. Until we allow for a Voice for quietly spoken,
peaceful people from disparate nations whose sovereignty was never ceded, We
will never be at peace with our own citizens and the ancestors of this land. Our
ecological bull-in-a-china-shop practices will continue unabated and we are
stealing livelihoods and wellbeing from our children and their children. We have
assumed democratic principles apply to and should make sense to all human
beings. This is not so and is a deeply flawed assumption. It is time to listen to the
wisdom of people whose culture and knowledge has survived and adapted
through ice ages of earth's changes.
Why do you think it's important to enshrine the Voice to Parliament in the
Constitution, rather than include it only in legislation?
I have a twenty year work history of being a public servant and have seen
ministers and prime ministers come and go with the rapidity of a revolving door. I
have also been educated by conversations with many prominent, educated (both
in a Western context and traditional contexts) and insightful Aboriginal leaders
and community members. I am convinced that the only way to secure integrity
and autonomy (in an apolitical sense) in voice at the level required to achieve
bipartisan commitment to community health and wellbeing is to have the Voice to
Parliament enshrined in the constitution. Because sovereignty was never ceded
and you can't easily forge an effective treaty after the fact with such disparate
and diverse clan groups across this continent, a Voice to Parliament endorses a
concept that can be fine tuned in years to come to allow Aboriginal people to
determine their own cultural governance arrangements. We are essentially
looking at a composite nation of many clans, families and communities within a
larger and more powerful Western democratic system operating in a Westminster
model that bears no relevance to Aboriginal peoples and communities in terms of
decision-making. In order for Aboriginal people to arrive at their own solutions to
the vertiginous mountains of challenges facing them, they need to have a vehicle
to communicate and collaborate with each other. To learn from each other and
fast-track and replicate models and approaches that are working and can be
adapted to different environments and circumstances around the country. As 3%
of the population with limited resources and deeply disrupted social infrastructure
there are limited opportunities to even talk with each other about challenges and
successes. I have seen great success with regional alliances and shared stories
but because of the fierce local allegiances and the traumatic impacts of stolen
generations policies in particular, the opportunities for Aboriginal people to work
together are usually mediated by whitefella organisations (government, NGO and
corporate). We have a rising generation of Aboriginal people with university
education and business success who have benefited from positive policies and

How could a Voice to Parliament improve the lives of your community?
I am tired of being ashamed of my country's leaders, policies and culture. I am so
ashamed that, were it not for Covid, I would be considering relocating overseas. It
makes me sick at heart, at the age of 60, to see the same if not worse statistics in
areas such as Aboriginal incarceration, deaths in custody and health, as well as
women in parlliament and positions of influence, rape and violence towards
women, our lack of policy to support women in the workplace and address the
gender pay gap, environmental destruction of forests and waterways, loss of
habitat and threatened species, dismantling of arts funding and the list goes on
with so many topics I hold dear to my heart. Our continued boys club mentality
wedded to a growth economy, fossil fuels and capital works has ignored
fundamental social, environmental and cultural values that I hold and I thought
represented the country I was born in. I would like to feel proud of my country in
holding out the hand of inclusion and peace-making to the custodians since time
immemorial of this ancient land on which we live, work and play. The land that
feeds and shelters us, that is full of so much beauty and grandeur, that I love so
deeply. We should all feel at peace in our hearts that we are being governed with
integrity and that our core values are respectful and inclusive. This is a small step
to take in that direction.
Why is it important for Indigenous people to have a say in the matters that affect
Aboriginal people understand best their own lives. They have an oral tradition
that has kept the injustices experienced by generations past alive in their families
and communities. Beyond that is the knowledge of the strengths of generations
past which will guide them in healing our society and economy and culture to
thrive in this country in a way where we can be proud to be Australian. I am
ashamed of my own political leaders. In my own lifetime I can only name two
prime ministers that have really begun to understand the complexities of
Aboriginal experience and have shown dignity and integrity in seeking to make
amends and provide avenues for empowerment. As a public servant who tried to
respond to the advice of Aboriginal stakeholders I found myself perpetually
frustrated by senior career public servants and Ministers in Canberra who thought
they knew better. Until we have Aboriginal leaders influencing policy and enabling
regional self-determination through collaborative structures and processes the
traumas will be perpetuated. A Voice to Parliament will give pride and aspiration
to Aboriginal communities everywhere. We cannot expect harmony and we
certainly don't role model that in our own whitefella politics but the only people
who can advise on the best way for Aboriginal people to influence the direction of
their own futures will be Aboriginal people. We have seen numerous examples of
good news stories where this is happening and philanthropists are investing
where government won't. I applaud the OCHRE policy framework concept in
NSW (though it needs better funding and commitment) and its fundamental
reliance on a local decision-making model.

I understand that the question of sovereignty and the Aboriginal call for self-
determination raises concerns in the corridors of power. This needs to be
discussed openly and managed with integrity so as not to undermine the basis of
our current governance structures. I don't see the Voice to Parliament as a threat
to current sovereignty arrangements but I do see it as a diplomatic solution to our
internal cultural diversity challenges. We could learn a lot from New Zealand and
elsewhere in the world in terms of how to respectfully work alongside our
Indigenous peoples to give them (or relinquish some of our own interference, as if
it is in our power to give even though this has certainly been taken from them)
personal sovereignty over their own lives and social structures to flourish and live
meaningful, nourishing and purposeful lives filled with love, hope and prosperity.
Don't we wish that for all our citizens? I know I would feel better about being an
Australian citizen if this were the way of things.

Thank you,
Jane Bennett

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