Australia heads to the polling stations on Saturday (14 October) for a referendum on plans to recognise Indigenous people in the constitution by creating a body to advise parliament.
The vote follows a divisive campaign, with opinion polls suggesting the motion will be defeated, with ‘no’ campaigners claiming it would be legally risky and is lacking in detail. But a passionate ‘yes’ campaign has said the plan would help address historic abuses and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People a much-needed voice.
In a post on the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) website by Pastor Ray Minniecon, of Scarred Tree Ministries, St. John’s Anglican Church in Glebe, shared his own perspective.
Minniecon, who wrote BCCM’s Doing Business Together report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ inclusion in the Australian co-op and mutual sector, referred to the Uluru Statement from the Heart from 2017. This calls for substantive reform to help realise Indigenous rights, through the establishment of an Indigenous Voice to parliament.
He compared the statement to previous declarations of citizens’ rights, such as Magna Carta, the US Declaration of Independence and the UN Declarations on Human Rights and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“There comes a moment in the life of every nation when a document is presented to the populace that offers a new future for that country and its citizens,” he wrote. “These types of documents are designed to give expression to a new vision. They are designed to reject the status quo of the past when hope was continually assaulted and defeated by failed political ideologies.
“The purpose of the Statement from the Heart is to give our people and all of Australia’s citizens a new hope. A new vision. It inspires us all to reach forward into an unfamiliar yet preferred future, beyond the contemporary crises and traumatic predicaments, to clutch the hand of a new dream.
“The Statement from the Heart gives me freedom to dream of a better future for my people.”
Addressing some criticisms of the proposal, he added that it “is not a self-centred grab for power. It is actually full of grace.”
Addressing the country’s colonial legacy, he said: “My old people used to ask this question, ‘who gave the British permission to invade our country? Who gave them permission to treat us as if we weren’t even an animal or a dog?‘ The brutality of the ways in which the colonisers treated us is etched deep in the memory of our ancestors and in our people’s minds today. To put the question in another way, ‘What crime did we commit that would cause another people group to treat us with such astounding cruelty and injustice?‘
“And the consequences endure till today: dispossessions, genocide, overrepresentation in jails and hospitalisation, homelessness, transgenerational traumas. Are we to live forever on the margins of society in our own lands with all of these obtrusive horrors? Such questions continue to demand a response! A priceless proposal has come from our Indigenous Australians in The Statement from The Heart, but can the whole nation now respond?
“The Statement from the Heart gives me freedom to see beyond past transgressions and to dream and act for a better future for my people and my country.“