The power to make a practical, positive difference in the lives of our fellow Australians is in our hands. When we step into the voting booth on referendum day, we will have the chance to be part of a great, unifying moment by saying “Yes”.
Yes to recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our Constitution, and yes to giving them their best chance of being properly heard with a Voice.
As a Yanyuwa Garrawa woman from the Northern Territory and the Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health, I can’t think of a more important area to improve through listening than in health.
Indigenous Australians have a life expectancy eight years lower than their fellow Australians. They also have a higher infant mortality rate for babies, higher burden of disease and a suicide rate more than double that of non-Indigenous Australians.
Anyone who has spent time in a remote Indigenous community can see just how much poor health and poverty affects every part of daily life.
There are too many old people who die far away from their communities and families while receiving treatment for diseases that could be prevented in the first place.
There are too many children who grow up with avoidable diseases of poverty like rheumatic heart disease and trachoma that can cause heart failure and blindness.
That’s why Indigenous communities want to be heard on the issues that affect them in health, and be a part of the solution.
Listening to communities on the issues that affect them is proven to work and it’s the essence of what the Voice is all about.
The Voice can give advice on key health issues in communities, from maternity care and aged care to strategies for improving health services and health checks in very remote communities.
We cannot keep trying the same solutions and somehow expect the result to change. That’s what a “No” vote would lead to: more of the same old approach that has already seen decades of governments spending billions of dollars, only for the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia to keep widening.
So much of that is because we haven’t been listening to the people who could steer us in the right direction: the people with the wisdom, the experience and the sort of insight you can only get by living in a place and calling it home.
Governments come and go at elections, but giving a voice to Indigenous communities will ensure their valuable local and independent advice cannot be ignored. That’s why Indigenous Australians from all corners of the nation have called for a Voice to Parliament.
The Voice has also been backed by leading health groups including the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Mental Health Australia, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Association, just to name a few.
All of these groups can agree that better decisions can be made on health policy if we listen to communities.
Local solutions to local challenges and making smarter decisions about health policy is what we can advance through a Voice to Parliament.
Voting ‘No’ would risk more of the same, closing the door to this once in a generation opportunity to make a positive difference.
This referendum is our best chance to ensure people can lead better lives now and for future generations to come.
The Voice will mean our Parliament can make better decisions and that we all get better value for money on policies and programs that work.
And most importantly, more Indigenous Australians will have the same thing that comforts so many of us: the confidence that their children will be able to live longer, healthier and happier lives with possibility and opportunity.
On referendum day, you can make a difference with a single word. All you need to do is write “Yes”.
This opinion piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on 7 September 2023.