Recently Barnaby Joyce in a radio interview, claimed that incorporating the Voice in the Australian Constitution would be contrary to the principle of equality. It would give special and distinctive status to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.
We disagree with this proposition most emphatically. The stance of Symmetra is that giving a Voice to Indigenous Australians is recognising without reservation that people who have been side-lined for too long are welcomed into the mainstream of Australian life.
Despite the fact that Australia in 2009 endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, there has been criticism that the principles embodied in that Declaration have not been faithfully implemented in Australia. Other countries with indigenous populations such as Canada and New Zealand have been more forthright in affording distinct legal rights at a national level to their indigenous communities. The reality is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples continue to feel the weight of dispossession and marginalisation well into the twenty-first century
A discussion paper issued by the AHRC in 2013 enunciates the viewpoint of the majority of Indigenous Australians as to the conceptual and symbolic impact of the UN Declaration for them:
It enshrines our right to be different as peoples and affirms the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, security and well-being of Indigenous peoples worldwide.
Equality therefore requires an acknowledgement of cultural difference and recognition that historical discrimination continues to have negative impacts on particular groups such as Indigenous peoples. Accommodating and accounting for this difference can create true equality. Equality as a human rights principle affirms that; all human beings are born free and equal, all individuals have the same rights and deserve the same level of respect, and all people have the right to be treated equally.
The referendum will offer Australians a seminal and historic opportunity to affirm in our Constitution that Indigenous Australians enjoy equality not merely in theory but are substantively equal and are able to exercise their equal rights in a most tangible way. This will be done by way of a permanent Federal mechanism to give expression to their views and position on matters affecting them to the Australian Parliament and the Australian people. These recommendations will not be legally binding but Parliament will be expected to seriously take account of them.
This is not to suggest that every member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities accepts this as the ideal for entrenching their unique status as an ancient people with a continuing link to the land they have inhabited for millennia. Furthermore, there are many in the non-indigenous community who hold sincere and considered views opposing The Voice. We at Symmetra believe that all have the right to be heard on this critical issue and believe also that the debate should be conducted in a respectful way.
Symmetra, however, has a position which we state unequivocally., Symmetra commits itself to advocating and campaigning for a ‘Yes” in the referendum to come towards the end of the year. It will, we believe, mark a turning point in effecting a reconciliation between our Indigenous people and the rest of Australian society.