Gemma McKinnon is a Barkindji woman from Wilcannia in far west NSW. Gemma is the Responsible Business Manager (APAC) at Herbert Smith Freehills. Gemma was a Technical Advisor at the Referendum Council’s regional dialogues and the Constitutional Convention at Uluru.
Why the Voice Matters
The question of why the Voice matters is deeply personal to First Nations people. Being part of the oldest continuing culture on the planet, and still being here despite the ongoing effects of colonisation, is a great source of pride and a testament to our strength. We bend, but we do not break. Our survival is a demonstration of our strength in culture, family, and in our ability to self-govern. Yet, since invasion, First Nations people have had little or no say in the laws and policies that govern us despite consistent, ineffective attempts to make decisions in what is purported to be our best interests.
The Constitution fails to mention us at all, as though we haven’t been here for 60,000 years, caring for the land from which the Nation has built its prosperity. Despite this, and all that modern science, academic research and history have taught us, we still aren’t afforded a seat at the table on matters that directly and often disproportionately affect us. In the words of The Uluru Statement from the Heart, the torment of our powerlessness is why the Voice matters.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future. (The Uluru Statement from the Heart)
I have spent my career working with First Nations people, supporting individuals, and advocating for legal and systemic change to improve the lives of our community. As an advocate for Aboriginal tenants in NSW, I met people who were born in a shack with a dirt floor, who stayed on that same parcel of land through different dwellings and different landlords and who were being served with an eviction notice for rent arrears. Their recourse lays in a tribunal member with no ability to consider anything but a law enacted in 2010. A Voice might enable lawmakers to consider legislative amendments that broaden the considerations available to these tribunal members, or indeed, create a more appropriate forum for such matters to be heard.
This is just one of many examples of the dire need for reform informed by First Nations people. I hear my brothers and sisters when they say they want more than an advisory role, and when they express their fear that this voice might fall on deaf ears. I simply submit that we have no choice. Those of us living in the city, with the benefits of education and employment, do not have the right to deny those without clean water or adequate shelter a chance at change simply because we might have the luxury of feeling comfortable enough to wait for a better offer. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We cannot risk allowing it to slip away.
This piece represents the author’s personal views and does not necessarily represent the views of the organisations with which they are associated.