It warms my heart to be here with you all to celebrate ANTAR’s 25th anniversary. 25 years strong! Reflecting on the past 25 years I want to thank ANTAR for your ongoing commitment and your strong activism for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
ANTAR’s statement of purpose is – To engage, educate and mobilise – A broad community movement to advocate for justice, rights and respect for First Nations people. Your advocacy work has garnered support and solidarity from across the community. The iconic Sea of Hands campaign has helped time and again to bring broad support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues over the years. Today we meet at Old Parliament House. This is a place of significance in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activism. This is the home of the tent embassy, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Old Parliament House is also the place where the Sea of Hands was first installed in 1997 as a show of solidarity and support for Native Title. The display of hands showed the instantly-recognisable colours of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. They bore the signatures of 70-thousand Australians standing up for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Today we celebrate ANTAR. From day one your Board and staff have been key allies, doing what you can to support First Nations led campaigns on the issues that matter. In the beginning ANTAR worked with Indigenous organisations and leaders on native title issues and for reconciliation. As you’ve evolved in the past 25 years you’ve taken on other national campaigns to address the critical issues of our time – Closing the Gap in Indigenous life expectancy – working to reduce Aboriginal incarceration rates through the Change the Record campaign, raising the age of criminal responsibility and justice reinvestment advocacy – protecting cultural heritage. You have continued to invite non-Indigenous Australians to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the last 25 years. I thank you for your extraordinary efforts.
Tonight I want to talk about the referendum to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament in our Constitution. And let me say loud and clear: we will hold a referendum to enshrine a First Nations Voice in the Constitution – And we’ll do it in this term of Parliament. Tonight I want to answer three key questions – Three key questions that I think are vital to ensuring a successful referendum – One. What is the Voice to Parliament? Two. Why is it needed? Three. Why it matters to all Australians?
What is the Voice?
As I go around the country one of the most common questions I get, from people is: What exactly is the Voice? And I say to them very simply: The Voice means consulting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about the matters that affect us. The Voice means delivering better practical outcomes. Practical outcomes in health, education and housing. The Voice was part of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – the largest consensus of Indigenous Australians on the way forward in this country. It’s a once in a generation opportunity to create lasting change. Now, I know there’s a bit misinformation out there. And let me warn you, our opponents will make more false claims about the Voice to Parliament as we get closer to the referendum. So allow me to shatter a few myths – the Voice is not be a third chamber, nor will it have veto powers. As the Prime Minister has said, the Voice will be:
…an unflinching source of advice and accountability. A body with the perspective and the power and the platform to tell the government and the parliament the truth about what is working and what is not.
The Voice will be consulted on matters directly affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – like Indigenous health, education and family violence. And on the question of detail. Let me be clear, there’s already a great deal of detail out there. With more than a decade of work from expert panels, the Leeser –Dodson report, and the Voice Co-Design process led by Professors Marcia Langton and Tom Calma. There will be more detail released in due course, following more consultations with First Nations representatives – two weeks ago, I met with more than 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at Parliament House to consider the process towards enshrining the Voice in the Constitution. These people make up the Referendum Working Group and the Referendum Engagement Group. They represent a broad range of communities, cultures and expertise. I am pleased to say that the Referendum Working Group will meet again in late October in Canberra. The group will consider important changes that could be made to the Referendum Machinery Act so we can modernise how we conduct referendums in this country. The Working Group will also consider the form of the question to be put to the Australian people. This is important work that will guide us on the way forward. At the most recent meeting, the Referendum Working Group discussed common principles for the Voice drawn from the work that’s already been done. Those principles identify the Voice as a body that:
- provides independent advice to the Parliament and Government;
- is chosen by First Nations people based on the wishes of local communities;
- is representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities;
- is empowering, community led, inclusive, respectful, culturally informed, gender balanced, and includes young people;
- is accountable and transparent;
- works alongside existing organisations and traditional structures.
The Voice would not have a program delivery function, not have a veto power.
Why is the Voice needed?
The next critical question is: why is the Voice needed? The Constitution is our founding document. The rule book for how we are governed. And since its inception in 1901 it has not included Indigenous Australians. Despite inhabiting this land for more than sixty thousand years – we have no place in the Constitution. It’s like we never existed. Never mattered. Never counted. Unfairness and discrimination was built into our systems – that’s how they were designed. Because policies were designed for Aboriginal people, not with Aboriginal people. To borrow a line from the Uluru Statement: In 1967 we were counted, today we seek to be heard. For decades, Governments and bureaucrats in Canberra have thought they knew the solutions for our communities, better than the people actually living in our communities. We simply can’t accept more of the same. More of the same poor outcomes. More of the same gaps in life expectancy. More of the same wasted opportunities. We can’t accept that any longer. That is why the Voice to Parliament is needed. Because the Voice to Parliament will mean that governments of all persuasions will need to consult and listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the issues that affect them. I want to take this country forward – Opponents of the Voice want to hold Australia back. Respect works, recognition works, when a government listens to people with experience, with knowledge of kinship and country and culture – When we trust in the value of self-determination and local knowledge, then the policies and programs are always more effective.
Why does the Voice matter to all Australians?
Which brings me to the next question – why does the Voice matter to all Australians? I believe that everyone wants to make Australia a better place. Doesn’t matter if you’re a descendant of English convicts from 19th century – or your family arrived in Australia as refugees from Vietnam or Afghanistan. Doesn’t matter if you live in the suburbs or grew up in a country town. We all want to make Australia a better place. We all want to see Australia be the best place in the world to live. And an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament will make Australia a better place for everyone. I think most Australians want to see First Nations people thrive and prosper like so many people that have come to these shores to make a home and raise a family. They want to see a better deal – A better future for everyone. Because Australians innately understand fairness. They want to take the next step. They want to be proud of the unique place Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people hold in our shared history and importantly in our shared future. Friends, we have the oldest continuous cultures in the world – and that’s something we should all celebrate. It’s a gift to all of us. This is a once in a generation opportunity to build lasting change. To take the next steps on the long walk to reconciliation. So it is upon all of us to walk this road of reconciliation together. It’s on all of us to be present and to commit to the hard work that needs to be done. Let’s build a better future, together. Force for Change.
On that note, I welcome ANTAR’s continuing advocacy and your new campaign to support Voice, Treaty, Truth. You can play an important role in helping us build coalitions of support across the community. With your help, we can harness the goodwill of the Australian people. ANTAR will be vital in reaching its broad network of non-Indigenous Australians. Mobilising your network will be key in spreading support for the Voice and the referendum. We need to ensure communities are informed and ready to vote. There are many Australians that have never voted in a referendum. And there are many Australians that do not know what our Constitution is. Talk to your work colleagues, your family and friends about why this change is important. Help them understand why Government should listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when making policies and programs that affect them. Together we can realise a change that is not only empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but will improve our country as a whole. Conclusion As we reflect on the last 25 years of ANTAR we can see real progress has been made. As we look to the future, we can see that all of us have the chance to create history. The Albanese Government is committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And I look forward to working with all of you to make it happen. I want to conclude my remarks tonight by reading from the Uluru Statement from Heart.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet.
We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.
When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
Friends, history is calling us. Let’s get this done together.