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An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament is a step in the right direction

Anthony Watson -

My name is Anthony Watson and I am a Nyikina, Mangala, Jabirr Jabirr, Yawuru and Karajarri man.

I am the Chairperson of the Kimberley Land Council and have been Chair for more than nine years now.

Today I am here to speak to you about constitutional recognition through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

For many years there has been frustration among my people that our words have been lost.

We have spoken loudly about our desire to sustain our communities, revitalise our laws and customs, and seek self-determination.

But we don't feel that we have been heard.

From the battlefields of first contact, to the days of the mission, working on stations for no pay, fighting for land rights, and pursuing our native title claims, we have been adjusting to the new western framework imposed upon us.

It has been a rough journey fitting into this new system. A system that has not given us protection, has not included us in decision making and has locked us out of many opportunities.

Ineffective and discriminatory laws and policies have continued the status quo, trapping many of our people in a cycle of poverty.

Rather than our lives getting better, we see living conditions getting far worse.

It is my lived experience that for many of our people you are either incarcerated, die an early death or you barely make it through life.

I've lost a lot of friends, and it gets lonely when you get older with only a few Elders left.

This is my reality. This is what drives me.

Governments always change, but what we have been fighting for as Aboriginal people stays the same – a real and practical say, self-determination and recognition.

For many years we have had strong representative organisations and structures that reflect who we are, our land, law and language.

Now it is time for Australia's founding document to do the same.

I am not a constitutional lawyer and English is not my first language, so I cannot talk to the detail of words on a piece of paper.

What I can talk to is what I have experienced, what I have lived and the country and culture that guides me every day.

An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament is a step in the right direction.

It will help us to achieve equality and will create a system that will support our people to flourish and prosper.

I thank the Australian Government for putting this proposal forward and supporting all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

And I thank all Australians who choose to support us to have a Voice.

This statement was delivered by Anthony Watson, Chair of the Kimberley Land Council, at the Joint Select Committee for the Parliamentary Inquiry for the Voice Referendum.

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