2668

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Submission Number
2668
Participant
Victorian Women's Trust
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript

“For the last 114 years, Australia's founding document, the Constitution, has been silent on
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Excluded from voting, and from participating in the convention debates which led to
the drafting of the Constitution, the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples were silenced by the framers of the Constitution.

While there is no constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples, that silence will continue. The absence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples from the Constitution makes silent and renders invisible the world's
oldest continuing culture.”
– Ken Wyatt AM MP, Chair’s forward, Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2015 i

We endorse the From the Heart campaign’s call for a National Voice

In 2011 the Victorian Women’s Trust (VWT) made a submission to the Joint Select
Committee’s Inquiry. We wrote, “if you create a better world for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples, all Australians benefit”. This still rings true today. April 2021 marks 30
years since the release of the Final Report following the Royal Commission into Aboriginal
Deaths in Custody and VWT is motivated to support the From The Heart’s advocacy to the
Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process for the establishment of a First Nations Voice
enshrined in the Constitution to advise the Parliament and Government on legislation and
policy that have an acute and particular impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples. There is still much unfinished work to do on this issue and we must all keep
pushing for change. As the Director of the From the Heart campaign, Dave Parkin, stated in
a submission to the Co-Design process, “A Voice enshrined in the Constitution is a fair,
practical and safe proposal that will unify our nation.”

In supporting the From the Heart campaign, VWT:

1. Calls on the Government to honour its election commitment to a referendum once a model
for the Voice has been settled.
2. Calls for enabling legislation for the Voice to be passed after a referendum has been held
in the next term of Parliament.
3. Calls for a membership model for the National Voice that ensures previously unheard
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the same chance of being selected as
established leadership figures.

Victorian Women’s Trust Ltd. A.B.N. 20 006 403 256
Level 9/ 313 La Trobe Street Melbourne VIC 3000
P: 03 9642 0422 F: 03 9642 0016 E: women@vwt.org.au W: www.vwt.org.au
VWT also notes that while there have been six government processes examining the
question of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the
past decade, the Uluru Statement from the Heart is “the most proportionately significant
consultation process that has ever been undertaken with First Peoples” ii and must not be a
squandered opportunity.

Our organisation

Established in 1985, the Victorian Women’s Trust is an organisation whose vision is to
achieve a world where women, girls, and gender diverse people take up all of life’s
opportunities with respect, safety and dignity.

Throughout our 36-year history we have worked side by side with Indigenous women in
creating a better nation including:

• Being in partnership and sharing offices with Aboriginal organisation Koorie Women
Mean Business (KWMB) since 1994. We continue to leverage off this sustained and
positive relationship by finding other means to inspire others to work together in the
pursuit of justice for Indigenous Australians.
• Currently we have two Sub-Funds that grant exclusively to Aboriginal organisations
and another that supports educational and leadership opportunities for Aboriginal
women.
• In 2012, VWT invited eminent USA anti-violence campaigner Dr Jackson Katz to
Melbourne where he took part in an unprecedented partnership initiative between the
Trust and KWMB which resulted in The Iramoo Zone, in which some thirty
Indigenous male leaders in family violence prevention participated in a highly
successful masterclass with Dr Katz as a part of our Be The Hero! program.
• In 2018, VWT produced a documentary film with Stu Mannion, Letters Across the
Desert which featured interviews with celebrated historian Sue Taffe and a vast array
of archival photography. Letters Across the Desert captured the powerful partnership
between Mary Bennett and Shirley Andrews as they jointly advocated in support of
the rights of Indigenous Australians in the early 20th century.
• In 2019, VWT and KWMB hosted a community event with the Victorian Treaty
Advancement Commissioner Jill Gallagher about the process, what treaty looks like,
and what it means for Victorians.
• On 16 October 2020, VWT, along with Trish Bergin, Professor Kim Rubenstein, Hon
Mary Delahunty GAICD, Dr Nikki Henningham, Kerry Wilson, Tanja Kovac, Ruth
McGowan OAM, Nicolette Snowden and Professor Clare Wright OAM made a
submission to Members of the AEC Redistribution Committee on the naming of the
proposed new federal electorate in Victoria following the 2021 redistribution urging
the Committee to name the new electorate after an Aboriginal woman in light of the
fact that only 5 out of 38 Federal Electoral Divisions in Victoria (13%) are named after
women, and provided a list of 34 possible women to the Committee.
• ‘Warrior Woman Lane’ was established in November 2020 thanks to the collective
efforts of the Lisa Bellear Family, City of Melbourne, KWMB and Moondani Balluk.
VWT was pleased to play a supporting role in this important community project
stemming from VWT publication Women in the Life of the City.

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Conclusion

“The committee acknowledges that recognition in the Constitution will not end racism in
Australia, nor will it be a solution to the serious problems faced by Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples. However, constitutional recognition will be a vital step towards
reconciliation and give a voice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a
Constitution better aligned with a modern Australia.” – Ken Wyatt, 2015iii

“An invitation was issued to the Australian people three years ago at Uluru and support is
growing. If not now, when? When our voice is protected in the Constitution from the
vagaries of ideology and party politics, we will be heard, and we can have a fair and truthful
relationship with the people of Australia.” – Professor Megan Davis, 2020 iv

By accurately highlighting our past – the history and role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples in our Constitution - we can better unite our future.

In one of VWT’s early major public initiatives in the late 1990s, The Purple Sage Project, we
drew on an inspirational statement by Gungarri Elder, Ethel Munn:

If Australians are to live together and share the country, there is the need for a
‘miracle of ears’! We need people to listen and actually hear what is being said.” v

The VWT hopes this campaign by From The Heart for constitutional change is successful –
and generates a groundswell of support on the road to change so that Australia can have a
‘miracle of ears’ and use them to listen to our First Nations Voice.

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Endnotes i 2015, Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

Peoples: Final Report, Commonwealth of Australia, June, i.
ii 2021, Submission to the Co-Design process, From the Heart, 10, accessed online 25 March 2021, https://fromtheheart.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Interim-Voice-Co…-
Heart-submission.pdf
iii 2015, Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

Peoples: Final Report, Commonwealth of Australia, June, vi.
iv Davis, M 2020, ‘The Promise of an Australian homecoming: What would make an acknowledgement of country more welcome’, The Monthly, July, 11.
v 1998, Purple Sage Project book, Victorian Women’s Trust, 23.

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