Indigenous voice ‘a precondition’ for Closing the Gap: Anthony Albanese

Wotta lotta ... It's fine talk but NOTHING will close the gap. Talk certainly won't. Many governments both State and Federal have tried everything conceivable to equalize black and white living standards but the gaps remain. A bigger police prsesence in Aboriginal communities to protect the women and children would help but that is about all

A voice to parliament is a “precondition” for making Aboriginal communities safer and closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, Anthony Albanese says.

After revealing at the weekend his plans for a simple “yes or no” referendum on constitutional enshrinement, the Prime Minister told The Australian a voice would bring an even greater focus to the issues of violence, life expectancy, education and health affecting Indigenous people.

It is the strongest argument Mr Albanese has made to date on the practical need for a voice to improve the wellbeing and safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, as critics of the proposal accuse it of being “symbolism.”

One of the nation’s foremost Aboriginal leaders, June Oscar, has backed the Prime Minister and sees the voice to parliament as an issue that women can champion for the sake of their children.

Speaking after the Garma Festival on Sunday, Mr Albanese said he understood concerns that practical outcomes for ­Aboriginal communities would come second to the voice, but said the referendum was “far from being an either-or proposition.”

“I believe that a voice to parliament and lifting up the status and respect of First Nations communities is a precondition for getting better practical outcomes and closing the gap in all areas,” Mr Albanese told The Australian on Sunday.

“I understand that people have been let down by promises, and that people want more than just symbolism for its own sake.

“There are legitimate concerns about practical reconcil­iation, and about the need to close the gap whether it be on life expectancy, educational outcomes, living standards, health outcomes – they all need ­addressing.

“But there will be a greater focus on them when there is a voice to the parliament that has to be listened to.”

A proposed model for the voice overseen by Indigenous academics Marcia Langton and Tom Calma has 24 members, 12 male and 12 female, including at least five people from remote communities.

Dr Oscar said the voice was a chance for Aboriginal women, the backbone of their commun­ities, to “come to the fore”. She hoped non-Indigenous women would help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in the yes campaign.

Dr Oscar is a Bunuba woman who led a long battle with ­bureaucracy to restrict alcohol in the Fitzroy Valley in the far north of Western Australia. She and other Aboriginal women took action in response to alcohol-fuelled violence and record numbers of Aboriginal suicides.

When the last bottle shop in the valley was shut down in 2009, Dr Oscar and other Aboriginal women helped researchers uncover one of the world’s highest rates of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder – permanent brain damage – among local children.

“Everything that we have been able to achieve has been a fight,” Dr Oscar said. “We can’t and we should not have to keep fighting because the fight is exhausting, and it dis­courages good people from getting involved. It is a struggle to get our issues listened to and acted on – you are dealing with layers and layers of bureaucracy.

“Will the voice provide relief from the fight? If it genuinely engages Aboriginal people in the design of it, I believe it will.”

Dr Oscar said she had more views in common than differences with senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, who has indicated she may campaign for a no vote in the referendum. The Coalition parliamentarian from Alice Springs has criticised the voice as symbolism and urged Labor to prioritise the reduction of family violence in Aboriginal communities.

“Our starting points might be different but we want the same things,” Dr Oscar said on Sunday.

Opposition spokesman on Indigenous affairs Julian Leeser supports an enshrined voice and believes its chances of succeeding are higher if a model is settled before a referendum. He has urged Labor to provide more detail soon.

On Sunday, Mr Albanese said he wanted the design of the voice “to be owned by the whole of ­parliament … There will be more detail in the discussion that will take place to pass the proposal for a referendum to take place.”


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