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"It is time for Australia to recognise Indigenous Australians" - Burney on Voice

Jess Whaler -

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney received a standing ovation at the National Press Club on Wednesday after her call: "it is time for Australia to recognise Indigenous Australians."

Ms Burney said that for far too long, governments have been making policies for Indigenous Australians, not with Indigenous Australians.

"We need a voice to change that" she said.

At the opening of the event, the 2023 Australian Elder of the Year, Dr Aunty Matilda House gave the Welcome to Country.

Dr House has dedicated her life to advocacy, social justice and sovereignty for First Nations people, and was also one of the original protestors who established the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972.

Minister Burney opened her speech by highlighting the number of policies and programs that have been created and left by the wayside in previous years, having created little to no change over decades.

She noted that in the past month, reports have shown that of the nineteen closing the gap targets only four have been achieved.

"Just four out of nineteen. Life expectancy? Not on track. Indigenous babies born with healthy birth weights? Not on track. Finishing Year 12? Not on track. Indigenous people engaged in jobs and training? Not on track. If we needed any more evidence that more of the same isn't good enough, then this is it. We have to do things better and I honestly believe the Voice can help. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose by supporting the Voice. We have to do things better, and I honestly think the voice will help," she said.

"The idea of constitutional recognition through a 'Voice' is what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People have asked for themselves, have asked for - not the Government."

"Later this year, Australians, you will be asked a simple question: do you support a change to the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice? Yes, or no? Canada recognised First Nations people in the 1980s. In New Zealand, the Crown recognised the Maori people as far back as 1840. In 2023, it is time for Australia to recognise Indigenous Australians."

Ms Burney shared more data on negative life outcomes for First Nations people and noted that systemic and structural disadvantage is the root cause.

"All these numbers sometimes obscure the fact that this is about real people. Real people with families and loved ones" she said.

The Minister said the Voice will be an independent body made up of representatives from each and every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Community, and that representatives will be chosen by local communities for local communities.

She said there is "no one size fits all" solution, adding that different communities have different needs, which is why each community must have a voice.

The Minister advised that she wants the representatives to bring their ideas on what their communities need and together work toward improving outcomes in; Health, Education, Jobs, Housing.

"The Voice will be a mechanism for the government and Parliament to listen, it will be like a resource of local knowledge and solutions they can help make us better and help make better policies.

"It will empower local voices, every state, territory, this Torres Strait Islands and remote communities will be represented. It will be gender balanced and include the views of young people. It will consult with local communities, it will be accountable and transparent and it will cooperate with existing organisations."

Ms Burney said the Voice needs to be in the Constitution so it can't be abolished by future governments: It will not need to be reinstated every few years, it can keep moving forward and keep progressing.

"Let's say our local community identifies a problem like a low school attendance. The community identifies that this is a challenge and wants to explore local solutions to improve school attendance. So the community approaches that representative on the Voice and raises the issue this issue with them. The Voice then has the power to make representations on how to improve school attendance at the local community level to Government and the Parliament. It's about linking up the local decisions- decision making, and local knowledge with policy makers and Government."

Minister Burney described the main No campaign as using Trump-style "post-truth" politics.

"It is post-truth, and its aim is to polarise. Its aim is to sow division in our society by making false claims, including providing- including that providing advice to government would somehow impact the fundamental democratic principle of one vote, one value; a claim designed to mislead. Do not let the No campaign get away with using Trump-style politics in Australia. Do not let them divide us. Do not let them divide us."

In closing, Minister Burney quoted the Uluru Statement of the Heart:

"When we have the power over our destiny, our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to this country. Friends, it is time."

Following the speech the Minister received a standing ovation.


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