01 August 2023

As we approach the referendum on the Voice to Parliament set for later this year I feel a sense of hope in the community that we’re about to make a momentous and historic change with a positive impact to be felt for years to come. There is also a sense of curiosity—what I call generous curiosity—from many who want to know more about the Voice to Parliament, where it has come from and what it will mean in practice. It’s important to me as an Independent member of this place that I assist people who want to go on that journey of learning, of understanding and of walking towards a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

It is incumbent on us as politicians right across this House to listen carefully to the concerns of our community. Certainly throughout my term as the member for Indi I have had many conversations with constituents about our unique position as a nation with the longest continuous culture in the world. I’ve met many members of the stolen generations and I’ve heard their stories and their journey towards reconciliation. I’ve spent time visiting incredible First Nations local businesses, such as TVN On-Country construction in Wodonga where I see fabulous young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women achieving their potential under the mentorship of local leaders.

As I move around my electorate I have many conversations about the forthcoming referendum. I’m curious about what people have to say and I’m keen to discuss their questions and provide factual information to help them come to a decision about how to vote, confident that they’re fully informed and understand what is truly at stake. That’s why it was a real privilege to welcome the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, and campaign director for the Yes23 campaign, Dean Parkin, to Indi for our community forum on the Voice to Parliament this time last Tuesday.

The Cube Wodonga, the biggest theatre venue in Indi, was packed to the rafters. More than 400 people braved the cold north-east winter to come and hear about what this historic change would mean for our nation. Hundreds more tuned in online from the comfort of their homes, with technology meaning that they too were able to submit questions and be involved in the whole event. In total there were close to 1,000 people across my electorate participating.

With open minds and open hearts people came to learn more about the Voice to Parliament, and learn we did. We were warmly welcomed to country by Dhudhuroa man Derek Murray, who paid tribute to his elders and to elders across the country in his thoughtful and considered address. Minister Burney and Dean Parkin laid out how the Voice will work, busted myths and rallied us to action.

Many people in attendance were in support of the Voice, but there were others too—many who were undecided and some who said that they were likely to vote no. At the end of the night though some of those people said that this event had changed their views or they committed to finding out more. I think this is a really good result. We should embrace when people change their mind as they continue to learn and be more informed and not get stuck in one camp or another.

I’m particularly grateful to Dean Parkin for also conducting a yarning circle at Mungabareena Aboriginal Corporation in Wodonga. Together with John Martin, he created a safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to ask questions about the Voice to Parliament. All views were accommodated and discussed thoughtfully and respectfully. There were many different views about the Voice in that room, from elders, young people and many more. It was a terrific conversation. I’m absolutely grateful to every one of those people who shared their views and for trusting us in that circle with their honesty.

I believe the Voice to Parliament will have a practical impact on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. I believe that because I’ve seen the results when people are consulted and listened to when it comes to developing and implementing policies that affect their lives. In my electorate of Indi, we are living our strong principles of community participation and decision-making—active grassroots democracy. And this is what motivates me in this conversation about the Voice to Parliament. When people are able to have their say about what legislation and policy proposals will mean to them, there’s a greater sense of empowerment that forms and a recognition of solidarity with others in the community.

Having said that, a crucial part of people having their say is there being people ready to listen and open to listening. As elected representatives, we must show that we are willing to listen to the Voice, even when it tells us things that are hard to hear. I am confident that changing our Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through the Voice is the right thing to do.

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