By now most of us, if not all, know the outcome of the referendum on the “Constitutional Recognition of the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.”
The resounding “No” in all States and the Northern Territory has shattered the hopes of the greater majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders for formal recognition of their unique status as Australia’s First Peoples. It has also rejected their simple request for the opportunity to meaningfully engage in decisions that affected their wellbeing.
The outcome has, no doubt, greatly saddened and disappointed the millions of Australians who worked vigorously to bring about change. It must be especially painful and disheartening for First Peoples leaders who have worked for decades to achieve greater recognition and empowerment of their people. Many of them placed their trust and faith in the goodwill of their fellow Australians and have been once more disillusioned but, more than likely, not surprised.
The call from a number of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to continue the journey towards reconciliation and recognition with strength and purpose characterises the awe-inspiring resilience that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have demonstrated since colonisation.
Centrecare people are also saddened by the referendum outcome. We wanted to see an Australia that proudly enshrined the acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the First Peoples in its Constitution. We desired to see our nation reach out in friendship and wholehearted acceptance to our fellow First Australians. It would have been inspiring to see us working together to improve the quality of life of First Peoples. On Saturday, it wasn’t to be.
We remain hopeful. The last few months have raised awareness of the many difficulties that face First Peoples. The past weeks have laid bare our national shortcomings and the work that remains to be done if we are to be reconciled. They have also revealed the wonderful strength, talent and expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
The future is full of promise. More and more will join the six million plus people that voted Yes in this referendum. Australia today is not the one that existed on October 13, it is a nation with greater insight. It can’t unsee what has been exposed. It has no choice but to come to terms with the truth of colonialisation and ultimately embrace the change it has for now rejected.
Adj/Prof. Tony Pietropiccolo AM
Director, Centrecare Inc.