Why Anti-Poverty Week supports The Voice
Accepting the invitation to walk together for a fairer Australia for all.
We can work together to create a future where First Nations people are respected, listened to and have the power to make decisions about their lives. Voting Yes in the referendum is an important step towards a society that respects First Nations people and culture and leads to meaningful improvements in the quality of life for Aboriginal people.
Everyone should be treated fairly and equally respected. We should all have our say – especially in decisions that impact us.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people deserve the opportunity to have greater control over their own destiny and futures and a constitutionally enshrined voice will enable better decisions to be made over the things that impact their lives. This includes decisions and policies that would reduce their over-representation in poverty and disadvantage. Writing Yes in the referendum can help to make our system fairer so that everyone has a chance to be heard.
First Nations poverty and disadvantage
- Disproportionally high rates of poverty among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take place against a background of structural impediments to full participation in the Australian economy and are evidenced across multiple drivers and measures of inequality. Poverty is reinforced and entrenched by ongoing experiences of structural and interpersonal racism, discrimination, dispossession of culture, land and language, and intergenerational trauma. National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) submission/evidence to Senate Inquiry into the Nature and Extent of Poverty, cited in Interim Report, May 2023.
- “We interviewed 5,300 Aboriginal children from every community in Western Australia, urban, rural, remote (with Aboriginal researchers doing the interviews), there were 5,300 kids and 11,000 families and we got a 90% participation rate. It found between 40% and 60%, of all ATSIC regions in Western Australia (by asking the kids and their parents) were forcibly removed from family, that was the history they gave. And when you look at that impact, you could see that not only in that generation where the children were removed, and we had such terrible outcomes, but their children and their children. So we got three, almost four generational effects. And the effects were things like a doubling of mental health problems, two and a half times things like infant mortality rate, and even gambling and substance abuse was incredibly much higher in the group that reported removal.” Professor Fiona Stanley, a past Australian of the Year, founding director of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Western Australia, and a researcher into Aboriginal health for last 50 years, speaking to Norman Swan on the Importance of The Voice for Aboriginal Health ABC Radio National Health Report, 7/8/23.
- On all measures of poverty and disadvantage, First Nations people emerge as the most socially and economically deprived. Poverty remains deeply entrenched due to historical and prevalent rates of discrimination and intergenerational trauma in combination with other complex factors that characterises poverty among other Australians. Department of Social Services submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Nature and Extent of Poverty in Australia February 2023, submission #12.
- In 2018-19, the median income for First Nations adults was 60% that of non-Indigenous Australians ($533 per week compared with $915 per week). Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia’s Welfare 2021.
- We know that poverty is a key determinant of poorer health and in 2023, First Nations people suffer ill-health and disability at greater rates than non-Indigenous people, leading to lower life expectancy – around 9 years less for males and 8 years less for females, according to the 3rd report on the 2020 National Closing the Gap Agreement, July 2023.
- There are two reasons why government policy has not closed the gap. And the first big reason is that they have funded without consultation, even no consultation, but with inappropriate consultation they have funded programs which are not only useless but harmful, and they cost a lot of money…The best example is the Northern Territory intervention, introduced by John Howard in 2007. It was a hugely expensive punitive intervention. … They sent in the army. They took away the self-esteem and the power of Aboriginal people to look after their families. In many of the communities it was an absolute disaster, and for every year following that intervention, and it was continued by Labor, child sexual abuse went up every year. ..The second: I’ve got example after example after example of Aboriginal control being so very effective in terms of trust of services and effectiveness of services, and through the 50 years of research I’ve been doing in this area. But one of the most anguishing examples, again, is where the government does not fund or de-funds the very Aboriginal controlled programs which are working so beautifully. And the most horrible example of that, the anguishing one for me, is that there were 75 Aboriginal community-controlled Family and Child Centres across Australia, 75 of them, you know, things like Bubup Wilam in Victoria, June Oscar’s program in the Fitzroy Valley, they were run by Aboriginal people. They were much more than childcare, they had culture, language, domestic violence, nutrition, health, they were centres of cultural strength. And because they knew what they had to do for their kids, they were incredibly successful, including kids being more ready for school. Year 12 rates went up in Victoria dramatically, associated with these programs. And in 2015, thereabouts, the Coalition government decided that they would defund these programs. Professor Fiona Stanley, speaking on the Importance of The Voice for Aboriginal Health.
How the Voice will help Close the Gap between outcomes for First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians
“The track behind us is littered with the relics of policies, programs and projects that failed, that wasted taxpayers’ money and failed to deliver real outcomes to those crying out for them. They failed mainly because they did not include Indigenous people in making the decisions.” Pat (now Senator) Dodson speaking at the National Press Club, 18/4/96. This is still the case in 2023.
“When you look at all the investigations …as a result of the despair that we see in our communities, they all point to poverty – and that poverty absolutely is rooted in a lack of self-determination.” Catherine Liddle, CEO of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s peak, SNAICC, speaking on 7.30 on 6/2/23
Speaking to ABC Radio National, Pat Anderson said: “We’ve been saying it forever but nothing happens. We speak, people give us polite space and nothing happens.” Anderson described the Voice as having the potential to “heal the torment of our powerlessness” and allow Indigenous Australians to “sit at the table as equals”. Pat Anderson cited by Karen Middleton in The Saturday Paper 4/2/23
“The Voice will lift the bonnet to see why the engine isn’t working and provide actual solutions to problems – not just develop endless reports showing the inadequacies. If we are at the table when decisions about us are made and our input leads to better quality laws and policies, the gap will close significantly… Until then, it’s more of the same.” Professor Megan Davis, 12/7/23
We understand that, just as First Nations people should lead the Close the Gap strategy, so too should they have much greater role in the determination of policy and laws which affect them. Embedding an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament in the Constitution and the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart provide critical opportunities for Australia to create mechanisms for partnership, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led decision-making, self-determination, truth-telling and healing that will accelerate efforts to close the gap. The Voice will ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people provide advice directly to the Parliament on policies and projects which impact their lives. Excerpt from Closing the Gap requires decisive First Nations voices – Reconciliation Australia
“The need for the Voice is really about establishing genuine, substantive and continued representation of the First Peoples in the policy-making process. And we know too from our own experience that if you give us a voice, we will make a positive change. There was a key turning point with the establishment of a strong Aboriginal leadership body … the Northern Territory Aboriginal Health Forum was established in 1998. And it’s a place where the Aboriginal health sector and governments meet together and plan how to improve the health of our communities. It really laid the groundwork for many of our health improvements in the Northern Territory that we’ve seen since….It does demonstrate what we had always said; when you have structures that are based on genuine Aboriginal involvement and leadership, you get better outcomes. We’ve seen in the Northern Territory life expectancy for Aboriginal men improved by nine years from 1999 to 2018. And for our women, the figure was just under five years…And at the time, infant mortality (so that’s the death of babies in the first year of life) was 200 deaths per [1,000] live births. It’s now at 15 per 1,000 live births.” Donna Ah Chee, CEO of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress in Alice Springs, one of Australia’s oldest and largest Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations, speaking on the Importance of The Voice for Aboriginal Health.
Later in the interview she is asked about how Congress and community controlled organisations warned the Northern Territory government not to lift alcohol bans in Alice Springs, and yet they did and whether a Voice would have stopped the lifting of the bans. Donna says:
“I think that if the Voice was in place, I genuinely believe that the Stronger Futures legislation on alcohol wouldn’t have been lifted. That is my firm belief, given the data that was showing about the reduction in alcohol related harm, preventable harm of what it was before the tap was turned on. I genuinely believe that they wouldn’t have lifted it, to be honest.”
“When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.” Uluru Statement from the Heart
Anti-Poverty Week accepts the invitation to walk with our First Nations brothers and sisters in seeking a Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution. Long overdue, it’s simply the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do, as we can’t work together to tackle their poverty without their voice.
Authorised by Professor Eileen Baldry AO and Simon Schrapel AM, National Co-Chairs of Anti-Poverty Week, c/Uniting Communities, 43 Franklin Street, Adelaide, SA 5000.
OPINION Voice debate must focus on facts in final week – Catherine Liddle CEO SNAICC & Toni Wren, Women’s Agenda 6/10/23
Opinion: How the Voice will reduce poverty for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, Toni Wren, Women’s Agenda, 7/9/23
Why Closing the Gap remains a major challenge, Caitlin Fitzsimmons, SMH Sept 2023
Yes 23 campaign