This year marked 54 years since my parents, Mahmoud and Hamida, landed at the Bonnegilla migrant training camp in Albury Wodonga with myself and my sister in tow.
We were among the first wave of migrants to arrive after the Australian immigration program was expanded to non-Western Europeans. The Australia we arrived at in 1969 has changed in many ways but some things – both good and bad – have endured.
Over the years our family tree has grown strong, nourished by the Australian values of a fair go.
When my parents immigrated to Australia, they were seeking the lucky country. A country where a family from Egypt could lay roots, knowing that their children would be afforded opportunities that were not always afforded to them.
As a teenager, I often cringed when my father told me they sacrificed so much to make a better life for my siblings and I in Australia. As an adult, I am living proof of that.
A curly-haired, brown-skinned daughter of a bus driver and a nurse who became a single mother, a professor in counter terrorism, and now a Minister in the Albanese Government.
But the opportunities available to my family and I, have not been available to First Nations people. The oldest living continuous culture in the world and, a culture and people that has a strong history and kinship with this land for over 65,000 years.
The facts are a First Nations child is; more likely to die at birth, less likely to attend early childhood education, less likely to finish school and more likely to die early.
In a country like ours – a lucky country for me – these are shameful facts that mean First Nations people in Australia are among the most disadvantaged in the world.
The simple reason why these inequalities persist is because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been left out of decision making on the very matters that affect them.
The truth is despite every effort, every bit of good will, to close the gaping chasms in outcomes for First Nations people, we have failed.
We’ve failed to afford to First Nations people what my family was afforded when they came here – the opportunity to grow strong, happy and healthy with a sense of identity and belonging.
We’ve failed to recognise and respect First Nations people. We haven’t listened to them on matters that affect their lives.
When you listen to people, when you partner with people and consult ahead of decision making – you get better outcomes. It’s common sense.
The proposition for constitutional recognition of our First Nations people through a Voice has been decades in the making and has, until recently, had bipartisan support.
In progressing constitutional recognition, thousands of First Nation people consulted and came together to decide on the form of recognition they wanted. The answer, after extensive deliberation, was the Uluru Statement from the Heart:
“We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country. We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.”
The Voice will be a mechanism that would enable First Nations people to finally be heard by policy makers in a real and tangible way.
By listening to the Voice, we can work together to deliver much needed change and improve outcomes in areas like health, education, and housing.
Why shouldn’t First Nations people have a say in the decisions that directly impact them and their families? Especially if their input will be critical in improving outcomes across their lives.
Voting Yes will not make me any poorer – I won’t lose my house or my backyard. I won’t lose any of the opportunities that I’ve been gifted by Australia.
But it will make our nation richer. It will make Australia a nation that lives up to its values of a fair go for all.
Right now, Australia is the lucky country – for some. Let’s make it the lucky country for all.
This article was first published in The West Australian on Friday, 13 October 2023 as ‘Australia’s ‘Lucky Country’ status doesn’t extend to Indigenous’.