Speeches → 2023

SPEECH

Voting Yes is about constitutional recognition to get better outcomes

SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER
Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women

Date: Thursday, 5 October 2023

Each year in Australia, billions of dollars are invested in programs focused on closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in key areas like health, education and housing.

But as the latest Closing the Gap data shows, despite the best intentions of governments and communities, the current approach simply is not working, nor delivering value for money.

The stark reality is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are still expected to live about eight years less than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

They’re also less likely to attain a year 12 or equivalent qualification, with 68 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 20 to 24 receiving the qualification, compared with 91 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians.

We know that nationally, just 81 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in appropriately sized (not overcrowded) housing, compared with 94 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians.

And only 89 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies have a healthy birth weight, compared with 94 per cent of non-Indigenous babies.

This is not just a theoretical gap on paper or in an annual report tabled in parliament. It is a tangible gap in the quality of life for thousands upon thousands of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders who live in cities, regional towns or rural and remote communities.

That’s why, for me, the referendum on October 14 is such a big opportunity.

If we’re going to shift the dial on the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes, and get better value for money for our investments, we’ve got to do something different.

Constitutional recognition through a Voice to parliament will help legislators and ministers charged with the responsibility of spending public money to better target government investments in a way that will deliver the outcomes First Nations Australians need and deserve.

On October 14, Australians have a simple choice. To maintain a status quo that we all know isn’t working by voting No. Or to vote Yes to make sure that when governments create policies aimed at closing the gap, First Nations Australians have the opportunity to have a say beforehand.

And that governments and the parliament actually listen to what First Nations people say. Because governments make better decisions and communities get better outcomes when we listen to people about issues that affect them.

This has been backed up by the Productivity Commission, which in July made the urgent case for a Voice to Parliament, emphasising that practical change requires government to work with and listen to First Nations communities.

According to the commission, “Governments are not yet sufficiently investing in partnerships or enacting the sharing of power that needs to occur if decisions are to be made jointly.”

We know that when decisions are made jointly, the results speak for themselves.

We saw this when governments worked in partnership with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations during the COVID-19 pandemic, which helped prevent the spread of infection among Indigenous communities.

By embracing tradition and language, the Birthing on Country program has led to dramatic improvements in many maternal and infant health outcomes, and has almost closed the gap in comparison with non-Indigenous pre-term birth rates.

And we’ve seen local Indigenous ranger groups across Australia utilise traditional land and sea management to deliver environmental and cultural outcomes, while also supporting meaningful training and employment.

We need to see more of these successful programs. And we’ll get more of them if we listen.

The funding decisions made by governments should be informed by those most affected by the policies and programs being rolled out.

As Finance Minister, I want to ensure the money we’re investing in First Nations communities is being used efficiently and effectively, and is driving better outcomes in health, education, employment, and housing.

Voting Yes will deliver that. Because voting Yes is about constitutional recognition to drive improvement in people’s lives. In children’s lives.

Voting Yes is something practical each one of us can do to make a tangible difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today and, importantly, for future generations.

For over 60,000 years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have occupied the Australian continent. They represent the oldest continuous living cultures in human history.

They have been careful custodians of Australia’s lands, waters and skies over a span of time that is so long and deep as to be almost inconceivable.

Today they continue their culture and this custodianship – but also face immense struggles. The Voice is designed to alleviate these struggles by providing policy for Indigenous people – with input from Indigenous people.

This remedy is something that can be applied by all of us on October 14, when we come together as a nation to recognise and respect our First Peoples.

[ENDS]

Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher, Minister for Finance