9 October 2023

The Voice referendum is simple - it's about recognition and listening

| Stephen Jones
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Stephen Jones and Wollongong MP Paul Scully at Port Kembla Harbour.

Stephen Jones and Wollongong MP Paul Scully during a visit to Port Kembla by Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney. Both MPs intend to vote Yes in the upcoming referendum. Photo: Jen White.

On Saturday 14 October, Australians will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution through a Voice to Parliament.

A Voice is something First Nations people have been calling for so they can provide advice to Parliament and government on issues that directly affect their communities.

I reckon that can only be a good thing.

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The upcoming referendum is simple – it’s about recognition and listening.

We are lucky to live in a place where human beings have walked for 65,000 years, to breathe the air that they breathed and to live among their descendants.

We have among our numbers the oldest continuous cultures in human history.

But for over 200 years, our First People have been hurt. They’ve been ignored and disappointed.

The Uluru Statement might have been full of recriminations for the injustices that have been done.

It might have made demands for the things which must be done, but instead it is a generous and gracious offer. The offer to walk together and to pursue a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood. To work together to do better.

That’s what the Voice is about. Working together to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people get better results and have greater opportunities.

Sure, it will not make everything right overnight. Nobody is saying it will. But, by opening up a clear and direct line between our First Peoples and our Parliament, it will make a real difference, and help us create the Australia that we want to live in, where there is justice for the First Peoples who live among us.

No referendum in Australian history and probably no idea since Federation has had more eyes and hands on it than the Voice.

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We know what it will and won’t be able to do. It will advise the Parliament, but it won’t be able to dictate to it. It will guide the Parliament, but it will not be able to steer it.

It might disagree with the Parliament, but it will not be able to veto its decisions.

It’s that simple.

We feel lucky to live in Australia, but we know not everyone is getting the same opportunities.

Just four of the 19 Closing the Gap targets are on track. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face a life expectancy that is eight years shorter than non-Indigenous Australians, worse rates of disease and infant mortality, a suicide rate that is twice as high and fewer opportunities for education and training.

For a long time, governments with good intentions have spent billions trying to deal with these issues. But they haven’t achieved lasting improvement because they haven’t listened to people on the ground.

The current approach is broken, and that’s why the Voice is our best chance to fix it, while ensuring taxpayer money is better spent.

This referendum is an opportunity for Australians to vote for practical progress in health, education, employment and housing outcomes.

That’s why I’m saying Yes.

Let’s bring our country together and get this done.

Stephen Jones is the Federal Member for Whitlam, Assistant Treasurer and Financial Services Minister.

Start the conversation

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