This year Australians will be asked to vote to recognise Indigenous peoples in the Australian Constitution and to establish a constitutionally protected “First Nations Voice” (The Voice) to advise the Australian Parliament and government on matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
The rights of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, its First Nations, have been a priority focus for DTP since its establishment by José Ramos-Horta and Professor Garth Nettheim in 1990. DTP has alumni in over 50 countries, and partners across Asia and the Pacific.
There is a wide awareness of the denial and violation of the rights of Indigenous peoples in Australia. This has also been consistently documented by UN bodies, international human rights NGOs, and others. Australian governments have often been deaf to the appeals of both First Nations representatives, and the UN. Many societies, including Australia, face difficult challenges in moving beyond their troubled pasts, into better futures.
In our programs this year I have been asked about this referendum by alumni and partners.
It is important for DTP to acknowledge the leadership of DTP’s former Board Member, Professor Megan Davis, as well as many others who have courageously offered a way forward for Australia through the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The establishment of the Voice is a small but potentially significant step towards fulfilling Australia’s obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of the First Nations of Australia. Arguments for this are available here, here, here.
I will be voting Yes when we get the chance on October 14th, and with DTP alumni and friends, I look forward to continuing to work with First Nations advocates and allies in promoting human rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples in Australia and beyond. The hope is that the generosity of spirit they show can be reciprocated.
The Irish poet Seamus Heaney has talked of moments “when hope and history rhyme”. I hope that October 14th will be such a moment.
With best wishes,