Voice to Parliament a step towards closing the gap
Self-determination is the concept that we participate in decisions that affect our lives, something simple yet so powerful. A noble concept for any liberal democracy, such as ourselves, to champion.
I was four years old when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were granted the option to enrol and to vote in federal elections. I was eight by the time the first Indigenous Australian, Neville Bonner, became a Senator in the Australian Parliament. I was in my twenties by the time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were treated equally to other voters and required to enrol and vote. History which played out far later than it should have.
For too long, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have faced the loss of languages and cultures, the continuous trauma from the stolen generations, and programs which strive to help but have left so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders worse off.
All decisions underpinned by policies and programs made for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, without their voices at the table – let alone respected.
This year Australians will have the opportunity to change that; to improve the trajectory of our country, to modernise our founding document – the Constitution – and to begin the process of enshrining a Voice to Parliament. This is our chance for self-determination to become the reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
This year Australians will vote on a Voice to Parliament to be enshrined in the Constitution. The Voice will ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people provide advice directly to the Parliament on policies and projects which impact their lives.
It remains a disgrace that Australia’s founding document, the document which is our pre-eminent source of the law, still does not mention Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
All Australians benefit when the experience of those living the reality of policy decisions are heard in the policy making process. The Voice is our country’s opportunity to change how policy is made, by ensuring that decisions are made with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as opposed to for them.
The Voice will give agency back to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, to address the shortcomings of policies and programs which impact their lives, to deliver better outcomes for everyone. When we give a Voice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who know their communities and can highlight any unintended consequences of policies or programs, we will finally be on a tangible pathway to closing the gap.
It would be unsurprising too many Tasmanians to hear me voice my concerns about the current state of the Liberal Party. A Party which is sitting on the fence, undecided if they want to, once more, be on the wrong side of history. A Party which is being led by a man who walked out of the Apology to Indigenous Australians, a decision he now supposedly regrets.
If the Liberals choose to side with division and misinformation, I am sure it will be yet another regrettable decision in years to come. A decision Australians will not forget.
There is no way to reverse the clock and take away the pain of two centuries of injustice and inequality faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. But with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament, we will be on the right path towards a better future for all.
This year, I am looking forward to the nation coming together. Coming together to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – the first custodians of this land. Together, we will win this.