SHELLEY REYS AO
AUSTRALIA'S JOURNEY IN DELIVERING A RECONCILED NATION & CLARIFYING A VOICE TO PARLIAMENT.
Australia’s journey to reconciliation has been 33 years in the making and Djirribul woman Shelley Reys, CEO of Arilla Indigenous Consulting, has been involved in Australia’s quest for a reconciled nation since its formal inception in 1991.
In speaking to the RESET audience, Reys outlined the progress made over the past three decades and the opportunity currently facing Australia as a nation – to enshrine in the constitution an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
“Three decades on, progress is undeniable,” Reys said. “There is a growing indigenous business sector, more indigenous children going to university than ever before, we are seeing greater celebration of First Nations cultures than ever before, and we have 1,300 RAPs (Reconciliation Action Plans) by businesses in Australia.
“And yet there is still so much to be done and by any measure, indigenous people still find themselves statistically disadvantaged in health, life expectancy, education, employment and more.
“We need to move from safe to brave.”
Reys said the referendum on the Voice to Parliament, expected to take place in October this year, is a chance “to be courageous by doing something different”.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do better and be better.”
Reys stressed to the audience that the proposed Voice, an elected group of First Nations people, will advise the government on policies and laws that affect indigenous people – such as indigenous health and native title – “not laws that affect you”.
“A voice will mean First Nations people will have a formal role in developing solutions for themselves in concert with the government. Can you imagine how much more effective that will be in improving the social, spiritual and economic wellbeing of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people?”
Reys called on the RESET audience to use its influence in support of the Voice, and outlined seven common myths and concerns around the proposal.
Myth 1: There’s no detail on the Voice
Reys said the Voice concept was conceived through a wide-spread consultation process involving one thousand surveys, hundreds of stakeholder meetings, and the contribution of 10,000 people and organisations across 10 years.
Detail on the Voice, a byproduct of the Uluru Statement of the Heart, is widely available, including the principles by which the group will be guided:
– It will provide independent advice to parliament and government.
– It will be chosen by First Nations people based on the wishes of local communities.
– It will be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
– It will be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful, culturally informed and gender balanced. It will also include youth.
– It will be accountable and transparent.
Myth 2: A voice is a third chamber of parliament
As Reys pointed out, the Voice will not have the power to initiate or pass bills, and therefore doesn't meet the definition of a chamber of parliament. In its capacity, it will be the same as existing parliamentary committees: providing expert advice to parliament
Concern 3: Not all First Nations people support the Voice
While there are First Nations people who argue the Voice doesn’t go far enough, Reys said the proposal for the Voice involved a 10-year consultation process with indigenous communities. “We have done the conversations and there is vast majority support for the Voice,” she said.
Concern 4: We would have a treaty not a voice
“If we voted for a treaty tomorrow, I believe it would absolutely fail. We are not ready,” Reys said. “The Voice doesn’t preclude a treaty further down the track.”
Concern 5: The Voice can’t represent all people
This is only true in the way that any democratically elected body – including local, state and national governments in Australia – does not represent every single person, Reys said. “But it’s a construct we’re familiar with.”
Myth 6: This doesn’t concern me; I have no role to play
“The Voice referendum includes everyone: your clients, your partners, your stakeholders,” Reys told RESET attendees. “Being part of the conversation helps you stay in step with these important people.”
Concern 7: What happens if I vote no?
“Remember there’s no alternative being put to you. Saying no means ‘I accept the status quo. I accept the situation as it stands’. And I think we agree that the situation Aboriginal and Torres Strait people find themselves in is untenable and unacceptable.”
Finally, Reys told RESET attendees a Voice won’t be a silver bullet. “It won’t be perfect, but it will change the way government works with First Nations people to improve their lives,” she said. “It will create a safe, equitable and fair environment filled with hope.
“Doing nothing or more of the same and accepting the status quo is not the solution.”