Snakes and Ladders be gone! Why The Voice to Parliament matters

By Graham Brice

Posted in News

Is your head spinning over the battle that has erupted since the Referendum date announcement? Mine is!

So let’s step back a bit. The story of Exodus reflects that the compassionate heart of God re-members an earlier agreement; responds to enslaved cries; and calls Moses to step up and take part in reconciling, healing work. Covenants then, require action not just ‘feel good wallpaper.’

Remembering our Uniting Church Covenant, we hear the words of Rev Mark Kickett, Interim National Chair of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress: ‘A constitutionally enshrined Voice will enable our people to have a say in the decisions that impact our communities … as we seek to restore justice and promote healing ...’

At this critical time as a uniting church, can we come together without rancour and share our stories? We all have our faith journeys to reflect on. Our personal stories: and our own ‘blinkers’ to wrestle with – as we all ‘see through a glass darkly,’ as Paul so poetically and profoundly put it. Therefore, can we all learn from each other?

But do we need to ‘withdraw from the multitude,’ as Jesus did, in order to reflect on the gravity of this national moment and before we sit down with others around the kitchen table? My hope is that instead of letting doubt and fear define our decision-making, we might, like Moses: get curious, walk toward the ever-present light, and do our homework. This is because we have an opportunity to be better informed as we stand alongside our First Nations’ brothers and sisters in this Referendum.

As the new ‘Covenanting Officer (Supply)’ in South Australia, I am called to spotlight that we, the Uniting Church, officially modelled God’s covenant with his people through our Covenant with the Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress in 1994. We can embrace that we are not only ‘individuals’ but ‘parts of one body’ (Corinthians) – and a unique body at that, as we collectively then promised before God to ‘discover ways to make amends’ (President Dr Jill Tabart).

In so doing, as we wrestle with the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ material in our Referendum booklets, we are invited to weigh up both, our internal, complex stories of ‘self’ regarding the merits of the call from Uluru, and our quite wonderful Uniting story (the story of ‘us’ together with Congress).

As my story might not only be unusual but hopefully helpful to you, I’d like to share how I’ve done that weighing up, as my faith journey has taken me into three ‘domains’ pertinent to this Referendum Question about a Voice. Those were: First Nation-run organisations across the land; social and cultural studies and Indigenous research ethics; and the heart of Indigenous policy within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, in Canberra.

Firstly, for over twenty years as a social scientist I served under Aboriginal leadership in Aboriginal-run, community-based organisations in education and health which battled to achieve funding from one year to the next. Aunty Pat Anderson AO Co-Chair Uluru Dialogues (page 16 of the Referendum Booklet) was one of my bosses for five years. It was a huge honour working with such tireless Elders desperately trying to improve the lot of the most vulnerable in the nation. In my ‘Emmaus walk’ perhaps, it opened my eyes.

Prime Ministers, political parties, Ministers, at State and National level came and went. Came and went. Each with their own reporting requirements, ‘expertise’ departmental upheavals, and above all, ‘solutions’ to the ‘Aboriginal problem’ that often mysteriously involved funding cuts and/or the abolition of structures that took decades to create. It became crystal clear to me that the (little ‘c’ culture) of the political realm – the ‘soup’ of ‘Indigenous policy’ at every level – left Aboriginal people, agencies, and communities constantly at the mercy of forces swamping their little boats in a never-ending storm. Does that ring any bells?

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