The Guardian • Issue #2062

“We must listen”

Australian Conservation Foundation statement

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2062

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) says “Yes” to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice and the full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Australia’s Constitution is 122 years old and still does not recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of this continent. We are a nation that is not whole. We are made up of diverse peoples but are not united. And we are far from equal.

The Voice is an act of recognition of the First Peoples of this land we share, giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a say over the things that affect them.

When we see the beauty of Australia’s stunning natural landscapes and wildlife, we witness the enduring strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

That connection to Country is a precious gift for all of us, because we need to learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures about the protection and care of nature.

But to learn, we must first listen.

Listening to First Nations Peoples will drive better and fairer outcomes for First Nations communities: for health, housing, and more. And it will drive better outcomes for all Australians, including protecting the ancient culture and landscapes we love.

ACF acknowledges that First Nations Peoples of Australia hold unique knowledge and rights inherited from their ancestors and the land and have cared for this country since time immemorial. We recognise that sovereignty was never ceded, that colonisation was unjust and often violent and continues to adversely affect First Nations Peoples today.

As Australia’s national environment organisation, we understand we have a responsibility to help right this historical wrong.

Rightful recognition of, and genuine reconciliation with, First Nations Peoples is fundamental to protecting nature in Australia.

Writing “yes” at the planned referendum later this year is a simple yet profound action. It will empower First Nations communities to have a say in their own destiny. And it will be a joyful moment for all Australians to recognise and respect Australia’s First Peoples. Crucially, the Voice represents momentum in the right direction, toward a treaty.

For close to a century, First Nations people have called for a voice in decisions that affect them. After more than 15 years of discussion and consultation, First Nations representatives came together in 2017 to develop the Uluru Statement from Heart, which called for a representative “Voice to Parliament” to enshrine recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait people in our Constitution.

ACF strongly supports the collective call from First Nations Peoples for Voice, Treaty, and Truth. ACF is committed to helping to build understanding of how constitutional recognition and a Voice to Parliament can be an example of lasting change, one which improves outcomes for First Nations people and for all Australians.

As we confront the urgent climate and nature crises, we have much to learn from the country’s original, enduring custodians.

At this referendum, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to walk a better path as a nation. We must grasp this opportunity with both hands and open our hearts.

ACF says Yes.

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