Solidarity speaks louder: our thoughts on the Voice referendum

The Uluru Statement is a generous invitation to the Australian community to act in solidarity with First Nations people. Based on a comprehensive, nationwide regional consultation process, the Uluru Statement starts with the principle of First Nations' continuing sovereignty and goes on to clearly outline the imperative of a Voice to parliament enshrined in the constitution.

Importantly, the Statement also points to the structural discrimination that First Nations people have endured since the beginning of colonisation, and the need to achieve justice and self-determination. Colonisation is a continuing process and as a result, discrimination against First Nations communities is ongoing and devastating. For many generations, First Nations Peoples have been advocating for treaty and land rights, accountability for Aboriginal deaths in custody, climate justice, violence prevention, keeping children in communities, and challenging state-sanctioned child removal, and prison abolition.

As we go to the polls on 14 October to vote in the referendum about whether a First Nations Voice should be enshrined in the constitution, we ask people from migrant and refugee communities to hear the important voices of First Nations people who have taken the time to educate, inform and empower us. As Professor Megan Davis has said, a Voice to parliament will ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders will have input into the laws and policies that affect their lives in a coherent and coordinated way, which will lead to improved policy outcomes and a stronger democracy. Professor Marcia Langton, Dr Jackie Huggins and Emily Carter highlight the material benefits that could flow from the Voice to parliament: improved health and wellbeing for First Nations people, as well as equity, inclusion, fairness and unity across the community. The overriding message from many First Nations advocates is that laws and policies work best when the people affected by them have a say in how they work.

We recognise that while there is much to be gained from democratic action, the spotlight placed on First Nations people during this referendum has a significant mental health and wellbeing toll. The painful and at times dehumanising experience of being spoken about, rather than listened to, is something we as migrant and refugee women recognise. As migrants and refugees living and working on sovereign and unceded First People’s lands, it is our responsibility to hear First Nations voices, acknowledging of course that no one voice can represent an entire community's stance. We deeply respect the diversity of perspectives within and across First Nations communities, acknowledging those advocating for treaties, accountability, and self-determination, all with a view to advancing justice and moving toward a fuller recognition of sovereignty.

After the outcome of the referendum has been announced, the work is far from done. Regardless of the outcome, it remains our responsibility as migrants and refugees, residing and working on sovereign and unceded Kulin Nation lands, to continue to act in solidarity, taking the lead from First Nations people. The issues are well known; we must continue advocating for better systems to improve health and wellbeing, end discrimination in the criminal justice system, and strive to eliminate gendered violence against First Nations women and children. We hope that in the future, we will be guided on these and other pressing issues by an enshrined Voice to parliament.

So, whether you or your family has been here for five years or five generations, we all have an important role to play. Writing Yes in the referendum is not the end of the story. But it is one way to show that we as a community want to listen to First Nations people, and center their voice in the fight for justice, equity and self-determination.

First published in edition #125 of The WRAP on 28 September 2023.