In the coastal suburb of Sydney I live in, our community’s immediate concerns are focused on a lack of parking, and tall trees blocking precious ocean views. As comparatively trivial as these problems may be, my local council has thorough and accessible systems that are able to quickly address them. When I look at the local government members who field our concerns, I notice that they look like me, talk like me and often think like me. My voice is represented simply because it is not so different from theirs. It’s easy to live in this comfort, forgetting that it is not one that is shared.
Having lived my whole life in this neighbourhood, I was not exposed to the reality of Indigenous oppression in our country. It was not until I began to study Australian history and policy that I learnt of the expansive chasms of inequality, dug deep by our government, that prevent many of the First Peoples of Australia from accessing services and experiencing representation as I do. Indigenous oppression is a multifaceted issue, and compounding injustices can make it difficult to know where to direct our attention. Since the publication of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017, there has been a significant focus on inequitable political representation. This failure to listen to Indigenous voices damages reconciliation, leads to misdirected funding and inefficient policies, and ultimately perpetuates inequality in our country.
As a lifelong Christian, I could not grapple with this knowledge without seeking to understand what God says in His Word. It quickly became clear that as Christians, we are instructed to act justly (Micah 6:8) and defend the oppressed (Isaiah 1:7) because the Lord loves righteousness and justice (Psalm 33:5). Evidently, the Word is not cryptic about how we are to engage with issues of injustice. In the Bible, justice is almost always accompanied by an action - ‘defend’, ‘act’, ‘do’, ‘seek’, ’bring’. It can be difficult to move beyond our passivity towards an active engagement with issues of injustice. A pivotal realisation that changed the way I understood Indigenous oppression was that I am not, by default, a passive agent. Rather, as a beneficiary of the structures that disadvantage Indigenous Australians, I am already an active part of a flawed, incomplete and oppressive system. This revelation is not one of guilt or shame, but one that causes me to critically reflect on how my personal beliefs and daily decisions may be helping or hindering the pursuit of justice.
So, what can we do? For me, time is a resource I have been able to give to this cause and so I have been volunteering with Tearfund to support their work in partnering with First Nations organisations and Christian leaders around the Voice campaign. Perhaps you don’t have time to volunteer, but you have ears to listen. I have been deepening my understanding of this campaign by listening to First Nations perspectives. Maybe this is something you can do too. This way, when I am talking to others about the Voice to Parliament, I can share the incredible insights and stories of the many Indigenous leaders that daily advocate for justice.
You can listen to Indigenous leaders sharing their perspectives on the Voice to Parliament, including:
It is important to remember that you, and most of the people you talk to at work, church, the grocery store, the park and even in your home, will have to vote in the Voice referendum. And so, it is vital that we equip ourselves with an informed understanding and seek out conversations that encourage others to listen as well.
The Voice to Parliament will begin to remedy... exclusion with the simple but crucial requirement to listen.
For centuries, non-Indigenous voices, like mine, have dominated the formation and implementation of policies that deeply affect Indigenous communities. However, as a young white woman who can’t find a park on her street and who must confess to having complained about trees blocking views once or twice, I cannot truly understand the lived experiences and complex needs of diverse Indigenous communities. So, thankfully, the Voice to Parliament will begin to remedy this absurd exclusion with the simple but crucial requirement to listen. As the referendum to enshrine an Indigenous Voice in Parliament approaches, I am choosing to stand in support, elevating the highly capable and valuable Indigenous voices that have been largely ignored by our government. In the simple act of listening, we can begin to alter the systems that have silenced and oppressed Indigenous people for centuries.
Tearfund provides support for Australia's First Peoples through programs led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders. Together, we mobilise Australian Christians for a more just and equitable society for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.