Filmmaker and Yes23 campaigner Rachel Perkins says the October 14 referendum on a Voice to Parliament is about two things: recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and giving them a say on policies that directly affect them.
It’s long overdue that the 65,000 year connection First Nations people have to this land is recognised in the nation’s constitution, Perkins says. But just as important, the Voice will mean that politicians and bureaucrats have to listen and respect their views.
“Most Australians won't be affected by the change. The only change will be government spending money in more effective ways on Indigenous people,” Perkins says.
“People have actually got nothing to lose, but there is much to gain: better decisions by government, saving taxpayers money through getting better advice about what solutions work on the ground in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. That's what the Voice is about.”
In an interview with Wire, Perkins sought to tackle some of the misconceptions around what a Voice to Parliament entails.
“The Voice is an advisory committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, elected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that gives advice to Parliament and bureaucrats when they are making laws and policies that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Importantly, the government doesn't have to follow that advice, all they have to do is listen to it,” Perkins says. “Parliament still has supremacy. Everybody still gets one vote to elect their politicians and everyone will still be equal before the law.”
Parliament will also get to decide how many members sit on the advisory committee, and how often it meets.
Those who say the Voice will divide the country by race miss the point that there are already vast inequalities, Perkins says, with First Nations people having the worst living conditions of any group in Australia.
“What we're seeking to do is uplift ourselves through having a voice to government that enables them to listen to us when they make policies and laws about us to make better decisions.
“It's really important that politicians listen. They haven't been very good at doing that in the past,” she says. “We’ve had five advisory bodies in my lifetime - they’re set up, then they’re killed off. What we want is something that lives on, and the constitutional enshrinement will do that.”
As for those still undecided about how to vote. Perkins requests that they inform themselves, and look at the big picture.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime generational opportunity to recognize the deep history of this country. That is important, and it should be recognized in our most important legal document.
“It's also a vote to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who at the moment are on the bottom rung of our society. That's not right and it's not just and it needs to change.”
READ MORE: Perkins hopes history will guide Australians to ‘yes’ on Voice