The Australian referendum: what’s at stake

This year the Australian public will be asked to consider a potentially historic change to their constitution.

As recommended by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, a referendum will be held on the establishment of a committee known as The Voice: a body that will represent Aboriginal wisdom and interests at a parliamentary level with the scope to influence and advise on legislation. 

The Charter for Compassion, Australia, has been deeply engaged in this work. We recognize the opportunity this referendum presents to not only provide greater representation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities but also help to heal old wounds that lie deep in the Australian psyche. 

The referendum will take place at some point between Oct and Dec 2023

The very process of conducting this referendum creates an opening – if used carefully and with sensitivity – to better connect these groups to the wider Australian public and inspire a sense of common humanity between them. And, it can also be a vehicle through which to share and celebrate the wonderful wisdom of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups – wisdom that is needed so urgently at a time when we face competing threats to our societal wellbeing.

To contribute to that national conversation the Charter for Compassion, Australia, has compiled a set of statements representing the voice, history, and interests of Aboriginal peoples. The Why of the Voice contains 24 statements in all from academics, artists, and community leaders. We hope that the heartfelt statements in this book will support voters in coming to the Voice from their calm and creative selves – where they can see the possibilities of engaging with an Australian history that is 60,000 years old.

To give one example of these statements – Hugh Mackay, AO – Psychologist, Author and National Ambassador of the Australian Compassion Council in his contribution wrote:

We humans – all of us – exist in a shimmering, vibrating web of interconnectedness and interdependence.  To deny that is to deny the deepest truth about our humanity.  The proposed Indigenous Voice to the Australian parliament is an opportunity for this nation to acknowledge that, from the time of European settlement, we failed to acknowledge our kinship with First Nations people.  The Voice will right that wrong by declaring, at last: ‘We are listening.  We hear you. Only you can tell us how, together, we can address the problems created by the collision of our cultures. We are one with you.’   

Lynne is a member of the Global Compassion Coalition Board, National Lead of the Australian Compassion Council, and the global coordinator of the Science and Research sector of the Charter for Compassion. She is writing in a personal capacity.

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