On Saturday October 14, Australians will vote for or against a change in the country's constitution.
This is not something to take lightly. A constitution is document which underpins how the country is governed and declares the essential rights of its citizens.
The change which we will be voting on is the addition of a new section with the wording below:
"129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:
(i) there shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
(ii) the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
(iii) the Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures."
I will be voting YES to this change and, over the next thirty days leading up to the referendum, I will be adding my reasons for this decision below:
1. A consensus of First Nations peoples of this country have asked for this voice.
Following the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, asked all Australians, including me, for a First Nations Voice to be established and enshrined in the constitution.
The statement says:
"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."
2. Healing takes courage.
I feel many emotions when it comes to the First Nations people of Australia.
Shame at the ways First Nations peoples have been, and continue to be, maltreated.
Guilt for the part my forebears had, intentionally or otherwise, in creating ongoing intergenerational trauma.
Anger at the systems and organisations which have manipulated and destroyed lives.
Admiration for those, First Nations and others, who have been a part of truth-telling.
Envy of the connection to nature and to life which is an integral part of their being.
Pride for the small parts I have actively played in shifting things to a better place.
Sadness at my failings to do more.
Inspiration from how far we have come since my youth in acknowledging the connection of First Nations peoples to this country.
Disappointment at how much remains undone.
Hope for a collective courage across our nation in creating a future where we are can ALL heal.
"Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it."
Jimmy Kyle (Chasing Ghosts):
3. I want my grandkids to be proud.
And their children, and their children’s children too.
I want them to know that wrongs can be righted, that wounds can heal.
I want them to see that what they think, do, and say can make a positive difference.
I want them to feel they are a part of a connected country and a harmonious nation.
I want them to be proud to live on land where humans have been for over 60000 years.
Liz Stringer, The Things That I Now Know:
“Will I ever know great knowledge, is it even mine to take I dreamt I saw an answer and a child was its face
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, and my children will be too
If I don't do any better with the blood that's in my bones”
4. YES means I see you and I hear you, please speak to me and tell me your story.
I was told lies at school.
The history I was given was not a version of the truth.
It wasn’t even close.
It was a fabrication from beginning to end.
And it was given to me, in words and images, while I sat next to friends and classmates whose parents, grand-parents, and further ancestors, had suffered in so many terrible and tragic ways. In ways I was never told about throughout my schooling. Not by teachers, not by television presenters, not in books or encyclopedias. Not by anyone, not even my parents, who had been fed the same falsehoods in their youth.
And I wasn’t told by my First Nations fellow students either. Because they had been silenced.
I will never know how that felt but I do know I don’t want them to feel it anymore.
5. YES will create change.
For all the hard work which has been done, for all the good intent applied, for all the loving kindness of so many, things are not improving for the First Nations people of Australia.
If nothing changes then nothing changes. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we will keep getting what we have always got.
We need change. We have an opportunity to make it happen.
I will take that opportunity. I will vote YES.
6. Listening heals, even when it hurts.
Everyone experiences suffering. Some much more than others. At some time or other we will all experience emotional and mental wounding. Perhaps by the loss of a loved one, or the betrayal of a friend, or through some physical act against us. When this happens we inevitably feel a need to express our pain, to talk about what has happened. Because, in doing so, some of the hurt can be dissipated and we can start to heal.
For a long time First Nations peoples have been speaking. Or trying to. But we haven't been listening. Instead we have been intent on "fixing things" our way. We have focused on the symptoms, not the causes. We have judged actions, made decisions, created laws, set policies. All the while covering our ears.
We need to listen. To really hear what is being said. Then, together, we can all heal.
7. No is not an option.
On October 14, I will receive a ballot paper which asks me if I agree to a change in the constitution of Australia. The change comprises of two main things.
Firstly, it asks whether I agree to the constitution recognising that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are the First Peoples of this country.
This is a fact. How can I say no to a fact?
Secondly, it asks whether I will agree to the the creation of a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, which will be able to make representations to Parliament and Executive Government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples.
How can I object to a request from someone that they be heard on things that make a difference to them? I can't.
If I vote no, then I will feel like I am closing my eyes and turning away. Like I am holding up my hand and saying 'No. I don't want to help. I don't want to know.'
And that is not something I can do.
8. I have read the arguments for voting no and I am still voting YES.
Information is everywhere. Disinformation is everywhere too.
In fact there is so much it would be easy to become overwhelmed. And, in that case, to ignore the arguments of the no campaign. But I couldn't do that. How could I ignore their voices when I am voting for our First Nations people to have one? And, also, I feel it's important to try to understand why people do not see things the way I did.
When I started this, I acknowledged that I didn't want to be convinced to change my vote. And this, of course, meant I would read and listen to the arguments from a biased position. I needed to feel that and know it. Not only to try to take an understanding view of the arguments for voting no, but also to protect myself from emotions I might feel at what I read.
Everyone involved here is human - they all experience fear and concern, they are all consciously or subconsciously affected by their own past, they have grown in their own unique environment with values built from their experiences and influences, they all believe they are doing what is right. They are no more, and no less, than me.
The arguments are conflicting at times, depending on which group you are reading. Some parts of the no camp say the Voice is too much, that it provides too much power. Others say it's too weak and doesn't do enough. Phrases like 'legally risky' with 'unknown consequences' have appeared in letters dropped in my mailbox, followed the next week by newsletters asserting that the results are already known and will result in the abolition of Australia Day and huge costs to taxpayers.
There is a great deal of confusion in the messaging. Maybe that's the intent, to confuse, or perhaps it's just the result of multiple groups supporting a no vote. In any case, I was not convinced by what I found, and I will be voting YES.
9. What we have now is not working.
It doesn't take much research to uncover the myriad of methods and ways in which the struggles and challenges of many of our First Nations peoples have been approached. Nor does it take much to determine that, despite so many good intentions and hard work, that the outcomes sought have largely not been realised.
The Voice is not like these previous approaches. In fact, it is not even an approach. It is an open door. It is a signpost pointing in the right direction. It is an invitation. To walk alongside First Nations peoples. To listen. To hope.
10. I want to connect to and to be proud of my country.
My maternal grandfather, Jock, was born in Motherwell Scotland. Jock met my grandmother, Violet who was born in Stony Stratford England, and married in the wheatbelt town of Kondonin. They had both migrated to Australia in the 1920s. My paternal grandmother, Eva, was born in Derby, Western Australia. She met my grandfather, James, in Perth. He had grown up in Murchison, Victoria. James and Eva each descended from families who came to Australia in the mid-1800s.
My family lines in this country extend two hundred years.
My family has been here for generations. I am a descendent of Australians.
I was born in Manly Hospital in Sydney in 1970. I went to kindy in Cairns, Queensland and then attended school in Carnarvon, Western Australia between 1975 and 1986. Following that, I studied at the University of Western Australia, on the Swan River between 1988 and 1993. Now, I am in Joondalup City, a suburban precinct of Perth.
I was born here. I am Australian.
And, I feel a bond with this place we call Australia.
It shadows me when I run on the trails in Walyunga. I feel it when I walk with my wife along Yaberoo Budjara, touching the leaves of the bush plants as I pass. I now know I was born on Gayamaygal land. And I was schooled in a place called Kuwinywardu. I feel the connection when I hear the sqwuak of a gang of redtails flying overhead or see a blue-tongue lizard sunning itself on the path. And I now understand that I live on Mooro Boodjar.
But I can feel that something is missing. There is a gap. One which can be closed by acknowledging this country's First Nations peoples, by hearing what they have to say, and by working together towards a better Australia. By voting YES.