Yes makes it possible

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CEDA Forum, Perth

Thank you Dr Len Collard for the wonderful Welcome to Country.

I acknowledge Traditional Owners and Custodians of all of the country and waters across our great land –

I pay my respects to the Whadjuk Noongar people.

Elders past and present.

And I extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today from all points of the southern sky.

Today I want to talk with you about the upcoming referendum on constitutional recognition through a Voice.

And how the Voice can make a practical difference that improves the lives of First Nations people.

Yes makes it possible

But before I do that I want to tell you a story.

A story that I think sums up what's at stake at this referendum.

Last year I visited a school in a remote community.

And I had the great pleasure of sitting down and listening to some kids in their classroom.

The kids were aged about 7 and 8.

And as a former school teacher, I thought I'd ask the kids a pretty common question –

What do you want to do when you grow up?

At first there was silence?

I looked around the room, and I got nothing.

I thought to myself, surely these kids have dreams about their future.

I asked again –

You know, when you're adult and you finish school, what do you want to do?

Suddenly, one arm shot up.

A little girl said she wanted to be a nurse.

Then a boy said he wanted to grow up and play footy like his uncle.

Then another little boy flung his arm up and said he wanted to fly helicopters.

And the other kids roared with laughter.

Then I remembered what the facts and figures tell us.

A 1 to 3 year gap in literacy and numeracy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.

A gap that widens through school.

Whichever you look at it…

Too many Indigenous kids start behind at school and fall further behind.

Here in WA, the gap when children start school has worsened.

Barely one in three Indigenous in WA are developmentally on track at start of school –

Compared to around 60% of non-Indigenous children.

This echoes through life.

With Indigenous children over 20 per cent less likely to finish school.

And young people over 20 per cent less likely to be in education or training.

And later in life Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are over 20 per cent less likely to have a job.

It can't go on like this.

Not when we have an opportunity to change the system that is letting the next generation down.

And let me tell you this:

It costs taxpayers about $11,000 to send a young adult to university .

It costs about $148,000 to send someone to prison.

Every day I wake up, I think about those kids.

Every day during this referendum campaign, I think about their futures.

I'm 66.

My great friend and West Australian legend, Senator Patrick Dodson is 75.

This referendum isn't about us.

It's about the next generation.

So when people ask you what's this referendum about?

When they ask "what's in it for me"?

Tell them this:

If you want a future where everybody has a fair shot in life –

'Yes' makes it possible.

If you want to move this country forward to a better future, for everyone –

'Yes' makes it possible.

So how exactly, does 'Yes make better possible?

Practical reconciliation

The form of constitutional recognition Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are seeking is a Voice.

Not a preamble –

Not a footnote in the Constitution –

First Nations people want structural change that can make a practical difference.

A mechanism that can empower –

A mechanism that can make children's lives better.

Not just something that will feel good –

Something that will do good –

By making a lasting positive difference.

The Voice won't solve every issue overnight.

It won't right every wrong.

But if we get this right, we can make significant progress in almost every area.

Progress in health.

Progress in education.

Progress in jobs.

And progress on housing.

These are the four pillars.

Or four key areas that I will seek advice from the Voice about it.

If we get these right – almost everything else flows from this.

If you're healthy and get a good education, have a safe place to live and get a decent job…

These are the building blocks of a good life.

Today, I want to expand on this.

And give you a practical example of how the Voice will deliver solutions in education.

Over $270 million has been spent since 2014 on the Remote School Attendance Strategy.

A program that was developed in Canberra –

Developed with good intentions, but without listening.

Across the 84 schools in the program –

Attendance has actually gone backwards.

Backwards. Even before COVID.

It's what happens when governments make policies for Indigenous communities, not with communities.

Government and the Parliament will have a two-way relationship with the Voice.

As the Minister, I will go to the voice and say: 'this school attendance program isn't working'.

Help me to get the best possible advice to fix it…

From every corner of the country – about how we can do better.

Because the approach that different governments have been using for decades simply hasn't worked.

And we owe to the next generation – to do better.

So that those kids I met, in that tiny community in the bush, isn't more than 20 per cent worse off when it comes to finishing school, training and getting a job.

So that we can make the most of our human potential – by investing in it.

And here in WA you get that more than most.

West Australians understand how important it is for your interests and your aspirations to be represented when big decisions are made that affect WA.

You understand that for both government and business - getting better results and better value for money - involves planning ahead and listening to locals.

And in so many ways, that's what the Voice seeks to do.

Giving Indigenous people a say so that we make better policies for the long-term, we drive better results, and we achieve better value for money.

And if you don't believe me, listen to Aunty Pat Anderson, who says:

"When you involve people, you make better decisions and the money you spend goes where it's needed most: to the people on the ground."

And there's no better investment than education

The opportunities it creates for people and the skills and productivity it delivers for our economy.

By contrast, those arguing for a No vote would have us here, in another 9 years –

Having spent another $270 million – or more.

With even worse results.

With even lower school attendance among First Nations students.

This goes to a key choice that Australians face on October 14:

Yes has solutions.

No has no solutions.

Yes wants outcomes.

No wants more arguments.

Yes means a better future, for all Australians.

No means more of the same old policy failures that have let us down for far too long.


24 days…

In just 24 days Australians will vote in a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution.

The question is simple -

A proposed law:

To alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Yes or No.

As Noel Pearson said:

"No public policy question in Australia has been subject to as much inquiry, research, public consultation and report writing as the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians.

And I want to be clear about what the Voice is:

It will be a committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who will give advice to the Parliament and Government on issues that affect their community.

It will include Indigenous Australians from every state and territory, the Torres Strait Islands and representatives from the regions and remote communities.

And members of the Voice will be chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their local area and serve for a fixed period –

That means being truly representative of WA –

From the Kimberley to Kalgoorlie –

And from Perth to the Pilbara.

Members of the Voice will not be appointed.

It's about listening.

That's what the Voice is about: listening.

And it all comes down to the next 24 days.

You're the Voice:

Friends: for 65,000 years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been speaking.

363 languages.

But no Voice.

In 24 days, you have the power to do something about it.

You have the power to use your voice to give Indigenous Australians a greater say in their future.

And on October 14 you can write the next chapter in our great country's history.

You can write:

Yes for recognition.

Yes to a Voice.

And Yes to a better future, for all Australians.

I want to conclude by quoting from the Uluru Statement from the Heart:

"Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates.

This cannot be because we have no love for them.

And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers.

They should be our hope for the future.

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem.

This is the torment of our powerlessness.

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.

When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish.

They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country."

Thank you.

On October 14 –

It's time to listen.

It's time to vote 'Yes.