Every day in our work at SSI, we see just what can be achieved by meaningfully incorporating the voices of people with lived experience into decision making. It’s important for refugees, for migrants, for people with disability and more. So too is it important for First Nations communities.
By the end of 2023, the Australian government will hold a referendum to ask Australians if there should be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice enshrined in the constitution – a proposal from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to which SSI is a signatory.
Today, as an organisation, SSI is formally announcing its support for the upcoming referendum by publishing a position statement, approved by the board, in which we fully endorse the Voice to Parliament as a historic opportunity to move our country forward.
As a leading settlement organisation, we welcome newcomers to a place where First Nations people have had a continuous connection to the land for more than 65,000 years, having a rich culture, wisdom and care for the land that has not always been acknowledged or respected, including in Australia’s 122-year-old Constitution. We have an opportunity to change this.
We believe the establishment of a Voice to Parliament presents an opportunity for us to walk with First Nations people, side-by-side, and take a step forward on our journey towards achieving makarrata – a Yolngu word that means coming together after a conflict.
Constitutional recognition through a Voice is a simple but powerful proposal whose time has come. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have great strength and wisdom. These are attributes that must be harnessed in order to meaningfully address the inequality they face and work together to achieve a shared vision of a fairer future for all Australians.
The reality is that even with the best intentions, governments and parliamentarians alone cannot provide lasting solutions without working with First Nations community leaders. A Voice to Parliament would simply ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are able to advise politicians about what really works in their communities before decisions are made.
We recognise that a Voice to Parliament does not present an instant fix for the many and varied issues of inequality facing First Nations communities. Much more needs to be done to realise makarrata – but this is an important practical first step.