THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
Voting Yes a practical way to close gap
Over the past few months, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel across Tasmania and speak with people from all walks of life about the Voice to Parliament.
From Hobart to Launceston to Burnie, I heard from people ready to embrace the proposal to recognise and listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Because it’s time to do things differently.
And on October 14 we will all get to choose between better results or more of the same, which we know is failing First Nations people.
This referendum is about bringing Australians together for a better future.
The No campaign wants to debate every issue imaginable except the issue that is on the ballot paper.
But I am confident that Tasmanians will see through those tactics and support Yes when they see what is actually on the ballot paper.
The issue that is actually on the ballot paper is the addition of three very simple, straightforward sentences to the Australian Constitution.
Those sentences would in essence 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, the idea of 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.
That is where the Voice comes in.
The Voice will be a committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who will give advice to the Parliament and Government on issues affecting their communities.
It will include Indigenous Australians from every state and territory, the Torres Strait Islands and representatives from the regions and remote communities.
The Voice will have no power to prevent, delay or veto laws of the Parliament or decisions of the Government. The Parliament and the Government will retain decision-making power over all laws and policies.
But the Voice will 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.
Tasmania is a special part of the country. And I know that Tasmanians understand the value of listening to local communities.
That is what the Voice will do. Laws and policies relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be improved if they are informed by the voices of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
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.
Recently, 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.
The reality is an 8-year gap in life expectancy and a suicide rate that 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.
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.
Saturday, 7 October 2023
This opinion piece was original published in the Hobart Mercury.