Dear Co-Design Body
Submission to Co-design process
I am a Ghanian-Australian who has grown up on the unceded lands of the Ngunnawal Peoples in Canberra. In my early 20's, I moved to Mulubinba (Newcastle) to study architecture before switching to Nutrition and Dietetics where I later found work in Katherine, Northern Territory as a dietician and health promotion coordinator for a prominent Aboriginal Medical Service. After working in this role for 4 years, I became intimately aware of the bureaucratic dysfunction governing the lives of many First Nations peoples by different arms of government. It is clear the so-called gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is never going to 'close' with the current systems and political structures in place dictating and restricting First Nations peoples lives. This is why the Uluru Statement is so important.
The Uluru statement is a product of deep and respectful grassroots consultation, it is unprecedented in this country and deserves to be heard. The Statement's calls for a First Nations voice to be constitutionally enshrined is of upmost importance as it enables those with cultural authority to contribute to decision making regarding policies that affect First Nations lives.
Enshrining the voice to parliament in the constitution is critical in ensuring it cannot get scrapped by successive governments. It is essential for the structural change needed in this nation.
Working as a dietician and then later as a carpenter in remote Aboriginal communities in the NT, I saw some of the devastating impacts of Indigenous disempowerment. Perhaps most stark was the health impacts resulting from people not being given ownership or control over infrastructure within their communities. The lack of consultation around the design and quality of housing has clear implications for health: housing supply was severely limited with each home overcrowded, built with low quality materials representing what I would call temporary housing, that is, not built to last more than 10 years. Furthermore the houses are not designed to suit people's lifestyles nor the climate, requiring tenants to rely on costly aircon to cool the brick hotboxes. Important shade trees constantly get cut down in communities by fifo service providers without any consultation - this would never happen in a non-Indigenous community. After visiting a Ritharrngu friend's outstation and seeing the houses he had built with his father many years ago, it is clear the solutions to the housing crises in remote communities lie with local designs, local building materials and local know-how. This is just one example of why Indigenous people need to have control over the matters that affect them.
A voice to parliament would ensure First Nations people, particularly those with cultural authority, would be able to shape and direct policy that governs First Nations lives. This would improve the lives of all Australians by preventing shameful things like the NT intervention from happening again. With the example of housing in remote communities, a First Nations Voice to Parliament could re-divert the billions spent on remote infrastructure (exorbitant wages of fifo workers and poor-quality materials) into grassroots consultation to ensure houses are built appropriately for people, climate and future-proofing.
Please just listen to the First Nations experts, it's beyond time for their calls to be heard.