When governments listen to people, they make better decisions, they save money and they get better results.
That’s why we consult doctors and health care workers about health policy, it’s why we talk to farmers about agriculture policy, it’s why we ask scientists about science policy.
The one area where governments from both sides of politics have consistently failed to listen, sometimes even failed to ask, is when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
We know the consequences this has had for Indigenous Australians: an 8-year gap in life expectancy, an infant mortality rate twice as high, communities where children are suffering from diseases that have been eliminated nearly everywhere else in the world.
On October 14, you can vote Yes to change this. You can make a powerful statement about Australia’s history and take positive action for Australia’s future – and all you have to do is write one word: Yes.
A referendum isn’t like an election. When you go to vote you’re not being asked to support a party, a politician or a policy.
Instead, you’re being asked to say yes to an idea. To listen to an idea that came directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves: constitutional recognition through a Voice.
Over many years this idea has been backed by all sides of politics, by members of every faith and tradition and by Australians from all walks of life.
Now the final decision belongs to you.
Voting Yes means we will finally recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution, celebrating the fact that we share our ancient island continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth.
Voting Yes is a symbolic statement of national unity and it’s also a practical act of Australian fairness.
This is where voting Yes will make a difference to the lives of some of the most disadvantaged people in our country. It will mean Indigenous communities thousands of kilometres from Canberra have a say in the decisions and policies that affect their lives.
That’s the point of the Voice. The Voice will be a non-binding advisory committee of Indigenous Australians from every state and territory, chosen by Indigenous Australians.
The Voice won’t have the power to overrule parliament or block laws, it won’t deliver programs or distribute funding. Its only power will be the power of its ideas.
The great opportunity here is the chance for Canberra to learn from communities. To find out what works when it comes to boosting school attendance, creating jobs, improving the rates of healthy childbirth, putting young people on a pathway to training or university.
This is how voting Yes will save Australia money. Because we’ll be investing in things communities actually want and programs that really work. This is good for the people who need the support and it benefits every taxpayer as well.
This is what your Yes vote can achieve: recognition, listening and better results. Greater unity and more opportunities.
We already know what a No vote means, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are living with it now.
Voting No means sticking with the same waste and repeating the same mistakes.
Voting No says this is as good as it gets. Voting Yes is about Australia doing better.
So if you want to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their culture in our Constitution, vote Yes.
If you want to make a positive change for the Australians who need it most: vote Yes.
If you want to wake up to a stronger, fairer and more reconciled Australia, vote Yes.
This opinion piece was first published on News.com.au on Monday, 9 October 2023.