Australians are lucky people. We get to live in the best country on earth.
But like any nation, there are things we can do better. There are problems we need to solve, and strengths we still need to build on, to make sure the opportunities of Australian life are available to all.
It doesn’t matter where you live, it doesn’t matter who you vote for – we all want to close the gap between Indigenous Australians and everybody else.
On average, First Nations people live shorter lives than their neighbours. They’re more likely to live in places without clean drinking water, or without proper housing. Perhaps most painfully of all, young Indigenous men are more likely to waste their youth and potential in jail than reach university.
Australians are a warm hearted people. We want to see our fellow citizens thriving. But to change these outcomes, we need to change the way we do business.
That’s what this year’s referendum is all about.
The Voice to Parliament is not a veto over government. It’s just a tool, to help us listen to Indigenous Australians when we make decisions that impact them.
I know this approach can work, because I’ve seen it work in my own electorate. As the Member for Sydney, covering Redfern, I’ve witnessed the power of First Nations communities, when they’re given the chance to shape decisions over their own lives.
The people of Redfern have taught me a lot over the years. We have leaders in Redfern. We have solutions in Redfern. People here know what their community needs, and they know how to deliver.
It was Redfern that pioneered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led services in Australia, beginning with the Aboriginal Legal Service and the Aboriginal Medical Service in the seventies. Following in their footsteps have been Aboriginal aged care, childcare, employment services, and men’s and women’s groups.
These organisations are run by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people, with special knowledge about Indigenous experiences. And they work. They improve healthcare access, reduce crime, keep people out of jail, and give local kids more opportunities and hope.
When Redfern locals decided they needed to reduce youth crime and get kids to school, they did it with the Clean Slate Without Prejudice program, run by Tribal Warrior and the Redfern Police command.
When they saw that people leaving prison needed help reintegrating back into the community, they did it with their Never Going Back scheme. And when the community decided that their services needed to work more closely together, they coordinated it themselves with the Empowered Communities strategy.
These programs produce better outcomes, because they’re more responsive to the people who rely on them. In the same spirit, the First Nations Voice will advise on fundamental issues, like health care, aged care, justice, housing and education.
As Linda Burney said in parliament last month, we’re not interested in culture wars – we’re interested in closing the gap.
That’s what the Voice will do. And that’s why I’m voting yes this year.
Published in the Daily Telegraph