Uncle Michael West invited the audience “to learn, to think, and ask the questions you need to” as he welcomed guests to Gadigal country on Monday evening, just three weeks out from the Voice to Parliament referendum.
The panel, chaired by Wuthathi, Yadhaighana and Meriam woman and lawyer, Dr Terri Janke, drew on each panellist’s experience leading Indigenous organisations.
Geoffrey Winters, a Kamilaroi man and CEO of Just Reinvest NSW, shared the success of giving Aboriginal young people in Mount Druitt the lead on policy making as they worked together to address problems with the criminal justice system.
The more we can move along the process of making decisions closer to those affected by the outcomes, the better.
Winters believes a Voice to Parliament will “start to sand away at this very abrasive relationship between Aboriginal Australia and society”.
“We're not trying to amplify the voice of Indigenous people, we're trying to fix the hearing of non-Indigenous people,” reflected Professor Deborah Cheetham Fraillon, Yorta Yorta woman and Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
When soprano and composer Professor Cheetham Fraillon established Australia’s first Indigenous opera company, she found non-Indigenous people were as enriched by the work as her Indigenous collaborators and audiences. “Not only are our people richer for the experience, but audiences who keep coming back time and time again and telling me they are richer for that experience,” she said.
We can change so much by adding our voices to the mix. I’ll vote yes on the fourteenth because it is a step in the right direction to have our people in the room.
For Denise Bowden, a descendent of the Tagalak people who was born on Jawoyn country and is now CEO of Yothu Yindi Foundation and Director of the Garma Festival, the Voice would be an “investment and a saving at the same time”.
She highlighted the success of the Dilak Council, a cultural authority and decision-making body that has brought together thirteen clan groups in northeast Arnhem Land for thousands of years. “We're getting 80% school attendance rates at our school and we had to wrestle that away from government,” she said.
If you believe in the community and the community is telling you this is the way we would like to operate, then go with the flow, don’t resist it.
Alongside improved social outcomes, the economic efficiencies a national Voice could create were a common thread among the speakers. Dr Janke told the audience the Voice would help address the lack of policy consistency that has led to “inefficiencies, poorly informed policies, a waste of tax dollars and a perpetually disenfranchised Indigenous population”.
By giving it a permanent place in the constitution, “the Voice will guide governments to who are the right people to speak to, set up systems, and maintain consistent relationships,” she said.
Looking ahead to the 14 October referendum, Bowden had a simple message for non-Indigenous people wanting to help: “You just need to be informed and understand what people are asking for.”