To Co-Design Body
Co-design process: Submission for JENNIFER COUTTS
In 1967 First Nations people were counted in the census. In 1967 I was twelve years old and attending school in Morwell Victoria. There was an Indigenous boy in my class who kids did not want to sit with. There were often indigenous adults in the town who asked for two bob. When I asked about them, sadly my father used to say they wouldn’t be around for long as they would die out. At school we learned about the history of other countries but it was not until I was in Year 12 that I studied Australian History. Still no mention of what happened to the First Australians. I am so relieved that times are finally changing during my life time. I am now 66 and although I was a teacher for many years, I have only recently discovered the real truth about the First Nations people. Now I teach English to adults who are new arrivals in Australia and I have the knowledge to educate these people on Australia's real history.
Why do you think the Uluru Statement from the Heart is important?
The Statement from the Heart is important because it is the result of 1200 First Nations people coming together from all over Australia to participate in the very first deliberative process designed and led by First Nations people. During this process First Nations people deliberated on what meaningful constitution recognition would look like to them. The consensus from all these voices is to have constitutional enshrinement of a First Nations Voice or in other words a First Nations Voice protected by the Constitution. The Statement from the Heart is an invitation from First Nations people inviting Australian people to work with them to enable the creation of a First Nations Voice through a new constitutional body that informs the legislative process.
Why is it important for Indigenous people to have a say in the matters that affect them?
Indigenous people are the original owners of this country and managed the land and people for over 60,000 years. They understand their needs and environment better than anyone and must have a say in the matters that affect them as people and also their environment. Governments need to respect First Nations people. They have been dehumanised for over 200 years which has created a sense of shame for generations. Now they need to have a voice in how Australia is managed.
Why do you think it's important to enshrine the Voice to Parliament in the Constitution, rather than include it only in legislation?
Enshrining the Voice to Parliament in the Constitution will enable the Voice to be permanent but flexible and will not be abolished with introductions of new governments.
How could a Voice to Parliament improve the lives of your community?
A First Nations Voice to Parliament could certainly improve the lives of my community. Traditional owners Wadawurrung (Wathaurong) people could teach our local people about looking after the precious coastal environment, which they did for thousands of years, but at present is at risk of fire in summer, over-development by greedy land developers, erosion and land degradation by poor agricultural practices, over population and loss of natural wetlands. We could benefit by learning the real history of Australia in schools and universities and by the employment of Indigenous people in our workplaces.
I am heartened to hear both young and older indigenous people speaking out through all forms of media, sharing their stories and hopes for the future. We all need to listen to their voices and there is a possibility we now can through a Constitutional Enshrinement of a First Nations Voice.