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Why I’m voting Yes

People from the Tearfund team explain why they’ll be voting Yes in the upcoming referendum on a First Nations Voice to Parliament.

Matthew Maury
Matthew Maury, CEO, Tearfund Australia

A practical action for reconciliation

I am often asked by Christians what they can do to make a difference when it comes to issues of poverty and injustice. Often the problems seem distant, the challenges too hard, and our ability to make a difference can feel quite remote. However, this year we as voting Australians have the unique opportunity to give our direct support for something that is aimed to help address one of the biggest justice issues at the heart of Australia – the relationship we have with our First Peoples sisters and brothers.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation. While we cannot change what has happened historically in regard to the ill treatment and injustices faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we can proactively take actions for healing and restoration.

For me, voting Yes on the Voice referendum is a very practical action I can take to be part of the work of reconciliation in our country. Several Christian Indigenous elders who have partnered with Tearfund over many years have told me how important a Yes vote is to them, and in solidarity with them I want to vote for something that can be part of setting a new chapter for our nation.

Matthew Maury, Chief Executive Officer

Mary Gaitho
Mary Gaitho, International Program Director

Transformation happens through participatory development

My first experience of Australia was with First Nations people – an immense blessing! When I moved to Australia from Kenya, I went directly to the Northern Territory where I worked with Indigenous communities in East Arnhem. I was not only warmly welcomed but also generously adopted into the Yolŋu Gurruṯu (kinship) system. I learnt a lot from the elders and appreciated the richness of Yolŋu culture and kinship system, and the extent to which it is grounded in kindness, love and raypirri’ (rules about behaviour and respect and much more). I was also confronted by the complex issues the people in these communities grapple with daily.

Let me tell you the story of Jason*. I met Jason in a community in East Arnhem when he came to apply for a casual job with the organisation I worked for, as he wanted to turn his life around (his words). He acknowledged that he had made some big mistakes in the past and wanted to find a job, work on himself, prove that he was becoming a good father and hopefully get his child back (the child was in the child protection system). I remember him turning up with a folder with as many documents as he could find to apply for the job but unfortunately, he missed some key details. He then asked for our help to talk to one of the government agencies to get the details as he wasn’t confident in English, and as he said: “I usually do not understand what they are talking about, the words are hard, and they speak very fast.”

The agency representative we reached out to made it clear that she wanted to talk to Jason only and that they did not have Yolŋu interpreting services. Jason looked at me and my Yolŋu colleague with shock on his face and said: “But we are family – we do things together, we support one another, it is the Yolŋu way.” The despair I saw in Jason’s eyes will stay with me for a long time. He said “manymak (all good), I will go back home.” My heart sank as I watched a young man who was upbeat a few moments before giving up in front of my eyes.

Jason’s story is not isolated. I experienced many similar stories of our Indigenous brothers and sisters frustrated by their inability to navigate systems or processes designed by non-indigenous people to address issues affecting Indigenous people.

Statistics do not lie. We know that our Indigenous brothers and sisters are doing it harder than the rest of us. We also know that Christ does not settle for 99 per cent; he goes hard for the one per cent left behind: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Luke 15: 4). I see this call in the totality of integral mission, without separation between evangelistic and social responsibility.

Community development practitioners all over the world agree that change and transformation happen when there is genuine participatory development. Participatory development is, in this case, defined as an ongoing process through which affected groups determine through inclusive discourse and agreement their development priorities and design of solutions that address their priorities. Exactly what the Voice is proposing to do!

So, I am voting Yes for Jason and many others like him. I am voting Yes because I believe as a follower of Christ I should not be settled if anyone is left behind, but also because the Voice is aligned with an evidence-based community development approach informed by years of research.

*Name changed for privacy

Mary Gaitho, International Program Director

I believe that if the referendum is carried, it will be felt by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be a powerful affirmation of their identity, culture, history and significance to the fabric of this nation we now share.

Mike Penberthy Coordinator of Tearfund’s First Peoples Program
Mike Penberthy
Mike Penberthy, Coordinator of Tearfund’s First Peoples Program

Powerful affirmation of identity, culture, history

In the early 1990s, in the years just after the Mabo decision and the passing of the Native Title Act, I was working on a project with four Aboriginal communities around Kalgoorlie and out into the Great Victoria Desert in Western Australia. It was a heady time to be involved in Aboriginal Affairs. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their friends and allies were hopeful that the (then) new changes in the Australian legal landscape would usher in a new age of Indigenous recognition and rights. At the same time, many loud non-Indigenous voices could be heard in the media, Australian parliaments, and at backyard barbeques proclaiming that this new area of law was potentially an existential threat to non-indigenous property ownership and prosperity.

As it turned out, these fears were entirely unfounded. Native Title proved to be no threat to the wellbeing of non-indigenous Australians, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples its legacy has been mixed. For some, Native Title brought significant benefits; for others, the recognition and rights that were hoped for turned out to be a disappointing mirage. What is too easily forgotten by non-indigenous people, though, is how the divisive public debate over Native Title caused real pain and did real damage. I vividly remember how hurt many Aboriginal friends and colleagues felt in those years by the constant public questioning of the legitimacy of their identity and their worthiness of respect, recognition, and rights.

At present, public discussion of the Voice Referendum is reminiscent of those times - powerful people who will be largely unaffected by the Voice, scaremongering about the hypothetical dangers of affording a measure of representation to Parliament and Government by First Peoples so they can have some input into to the laws and policies that impact them. Recently, in a meeting with one of the Aboriginal organisations that Tearfund partners with, I was told that many Aboriginal people in their community are feeling on edge as the Voice Referendum date approaches. They are worried about the psychological and emotional toll on their community, let alone lost opportunities that will surely follow if the referendum fails. As the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be listened to is so publicly and vociferously contested, it can be hard not to feel that once again it is the legitimacy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' identity and rights as First Peoples that is being placed before the Australian Public for endorsement or rejection.

Of course, The Voice will not be a panacea for the many challenges and injustices faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, nor can it hope to speak for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on every issue, but it does have the potential to make a positive difference. It will bring representative First Peoples opinion, experience and knowledge to the people who sit in Canberra and make decisions that will impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities, families and individuals. I doubt very much that it will negatively impact non-indigenous people in any way. Most importantly, I believe that if the referendum is carried, it will be felt by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be a powerful affirmation of their identity, culture, history and significance to the fabric of this nation we now share.

That is why I am voting Yes.

Mike Penberthy, Coordinator of Tearfund’s First Peoples Program

News about issues affecting Australia’s First Peoples

Keep informed about issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Tearfund's work with the First Peoples of Australia. Together, let’s deepen our understanding and prayerfully consider how we can engage in the work of reconciliation and healing to which God calls us.