Voice an opportunity we can't afford to miss

This Voice referendum is a generational opportunity to do things differently and do things better for the first of us, in a way that could lift all of us up together.

It’s not an idea that has come from politicians like me. It’s come from Indigenous Australians themselves, years ago at Uluru.

It’s based on something very simple: listening.

It’s about making policy with first nations people not just for them.

That’s the simple proposition put to Australians and that’s why corporate Australia has been so supportive of this referendum.

When you peer through the fog of misinformation and deliberate mistruths, one of the biggest lies of this referendum campaign becomes that much clearer – that our efforts to entrench a Voice in our constitution has come at the expense of a focus on the economy.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

These goals are in concert with our economic objectives, not in conflict with them. The Voice is about better value for money, better outcomes for the billions of dollars we invest each year in Closing the Gap.

It has focused us, not distracted us.

We are working for Australia across a number of important and complementary fronts.

Our highest priority has been rolling out billions of dollars in cost-of-living relief, targeted so that it takes some of the edge off inflation rather than make our inflation challenges worse.

We’ve legislated the Housing Australia Future Fund and invested billions of dollars in affordable housing, working with the states.

We’ve done all this at the same time as we’ve delivered the first Budget surplus in 15 years, saving billions of dollars in interest repayments and taking some of the pressure off inflation when it was most acute. Now it’s moderated from last year’s peaks.

That’s helped ensure the gap between wages and inflation that we inherited is now narrowing, and Treasury expects it to close early next year.

We’ve built on the Intergenerational Report’s focus on the big trends and transitions in our economy, with a White Paper on Jobs and Opportunities. This sets out our vision for full employment, wages and job security, productivity, our skills needs, and barriers to work.

We’ve overseen 15 months where the unemployment rate has a ‘three’ in front of it, and that’s only happened in three other months since these records were first kept 45 years ago. So 15 months on our watch from just 18 in total – the longest run of monthly outcomes like this, on record.

550,000 jobs have been created on our watch, in those 15 months, something it took our predecessors more than three years to achieve.

Yet the employment rate for our Indigenous brothers and sisters continues to lag badly behind, in fact it hasn’t shifted much in thirty years despite all the goodwill and good intentions.

Too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being left behind, with lower life expectancy, higher rates of disease and infant mortality, and fewer opportunities for education and training.

The current system isn’t working. That’s why Indigenous Australians are asking for a Voice.

It’s why voting YES is an opportunity to help fix this mess.

The NO campaign has no plan and no way of making things better.

NO means more of the same failures.

NO is a cul-de-sac of disappointment, dishonesty and division. It means more decades of pretending or accepting a gap that isn’t closing is the best Australia can do.

NO is an Opposition Leader who rails against the division he fosters and the division he wants to see fester.

NO is a generational buck-pass that leaves this to our kids and their kids to sort out when we are gone.

This is not a choice between our pragmatism and our principles. We can be pragmatic and principled here - we can have hard heads and warm hearts and do something we can be genuinely proud of.

A YES vote means every Australian will have a once-in-a-generation chance to bring our country together and change it for the better.

To recognise our history and go forward together. To listen better and get better value for money, better outcomes, in a genuine partnership.

That will be good for our economy too, and that makes it a generational opportunity we can’t afford to miss.

This article was first published in The Financial Review.