I thank the member for Jagajaga for the opportunity to record today, as the member for Indi, my support for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, a chance for a unifying moment in our history. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a generous invitation by the First Peoples of Australia. It calls for constitutional recognition of the First Peoples of Australia through the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to government and to parliament. By amending our Constitution in this way, we no longer leave it to chance but ensure that First Nations Australians can give recommendations on policies and laws that impact them. It’s an invitation I accept. I commit to walk with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to encourage people all over our nation to vote yes at the forthcoming referendum.
When I speak to people in my electorate about this, they’re often surprised by how modest the request for a Voice is. It is a simple but meaningful and, make no mistake, substantial change that will enshrine a way forward on the structural barriers that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders face every day—barriers in the most fundamental areas of housing, education, employment, justice and health. A voice to parliament is a crucial step towards addressing these challenges, led by the people who know best how to do so—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They are Aboriginal women like Judy Ahmet from my community of Indi who has supported me, taught me and led me since I put up my hand to run for Indi in 2019. Judy speaks about the national apology, a day I remember so well as I stopped a class I was teaching to listen to Prime Minister Rudd on a day that really was a turning point for non-Indigenous people across this nation, and this one is another turning point for us. A voice to parliament enshrined in the constitution is backed by cultural authority. Politicians didn’t come up with a voice. Over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives issued the Statement from the Heart, calling for a voice to parliament. Years of work and consultation by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people led to the Uluru statement, and continued consultation has followed from it. The Voice is the next step on our road to reconciliation. The Uluru statement calls too for treaty as a process of agreement-making and truth-telling—and I support that too—and a voice will enable that process to follow.
I commend the Victorian government for their leadership on treaty. I’ve met with our Victorian treaty commissioners who have helped me in understanding that process too. I’ve been speaking to First Nations leaders across Indi and will continue to seek their views on the upcoming referendum. Importantly, in my conversations I hear support for the Voice. I also hear, though, that it’s not up to First Nations Australians to secure a yes vote; it’s up to us. It’s up to non-Indigenous Australians to listen—to listen carefully—and to bring this to life. Ben, from TVN On-Country, a construction company in Wodonga, told me this, and he is right. This is not a question for politicians; it’s a question for the people. It’s up to our communities to get behind this, and that’s exactly what’s happening.
Last week 30 community members from many walks of life joined me in my office to share ideas about how they can host respectful, fact based, kitchen table conversations to bring forward a strong yes vote. On Saturday, by the banks of the Seven Creeks in Euroa, on Taungurung country, a yes picnic was held. I was proud to stand by Aunty Jill Gallagher AO and the Hon. Dr Barry Jones AC to address the 200-strong crowd who came to listen and came to learn. The people of neighbouring little Violet Town know that the ask is a crucial but simple one. They’re not complicating it. They’ve set up a humble card table and a couple of chairs in the main street with a simple message: ‘Let’s talk about the Voice’. They know that this is an historic event, a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and they want to be part of it.
I call on all Australians to think deeply about what we’re being asked to consider. When it comes to our moment at the ballot box later this year, a moment when we’re alone with our conscience, with our head and with our heart, remember: you have the chance to be part of history. I am confident—I am very confident—that, come the referendum, we will think about the question with our heart and our head and we will proudly vote yes.