THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
Symbolic language hasn't worked, constitutional reform is needed
For 122 years, our Constitution has not recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who have lived and cared for this land for over 65,000 years.
This Saturday, all Australians have a once in a generation opportunity to fix this – and to unite our country and continue our story together.
The No campaign wants to debate every issue imaginable except the issue that is on the ballot paper.
But I am confident that West Australians will see through those tactics and support the Yes when they see what they are being asked.
What we will all be voting on is the addition of three very simple, straightforward sentences to the Australian Constitution. In essence, those sentences say that, in recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of Australia:
- There is to be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
- The Voice may advise the Parliament and the Government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
- The Parliament will decide what the Voice will look like and how the Voice will work.
Importantly, this idea for constitutional recognition through a Voice came from First Nations people.
After years of failed programs and policies, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have told us that they are not seeking a purely symbolic form of constitutional recognition. Symbolic language will not do anything to turn things around – what is needed is a practical form of constitutional recognition.
The Voice would be an advisory committee made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who advise the parliament and government on the matters that affect them and their communities.
In this way, the Voice would improve the way we develop laws and policies relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because it will give local communities across Australia a voice TO Canberra.
I know that West Australians understand the value of listening to local communities.
A No vote is what we have now. And what we have now is not good enough.
A Yes vote will give us an opportunity to finally get it right.
The Voice is about making practical changes to achieve better outcomes in areas like health, education and housing.
And we need better laws and policies. We cannot risk more of the same.
The gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are not closing – in health, in education, in housing and in just about every other measure of quality of life.
There is an 8-year gap in life expectancy.
The suicide rate is twice as high for Indigenous Australians than non-Indigenous Australians.
Rates of disease and infant mortality are higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The list goes on and on. It’s time to do things differently.
That is why more than a thousand doctors and health organisations have stated their support for the Voice as a way to close the gap in health outcomes.
Voting Yes is a simple but powerful act we can all do to close the gap, make a practical difference, and make this country better for all of us.
Friday, 13 October 2023
This piece was originally published in the Kalgoorlie Miner.