Snakes and Ladders be gone! Why The Voice to Parliament matters Part 2

By Graham Brice

Posted in News

Why (and how) the Voice to Parliament will likely make a big difference?

I was left wondering …

Why did such outstanding but exhausted leaders have to crawl ‘cap in hand’ to their new masters at every throw of the dice in the endless rounds of ‘snakes and ladders?’ Why weren’t these front-line agencies afforded the respect of a sound funding base and informed, public health policy – gradually reducing disadvantage such as the housing crisis throughout Aboriginal Australia?

Why were the children still being ‘taken away?’ Why were Aboriginal people even in cities still dying in custody … adding to the weight of grief already piled high on First Nations’ hearts?

Why was another boss (the inaugural chair of the National Aboriginal Health Organisation, NACCHO, Arnold ‘Puggy’ Hunter,*, recipient of the Australian Human Rights Medal (and the most compassionate and courageous, good-humoured Christian leader I ever had the good fortune to work for) suddenly dead at 50 from undiagnosed and untreated cardio-vascular failure?

And why was this festering sore at the heart of our nation just ‘kicked down the road,’ even after the 331 Recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991) which called for Aboriginal input into all policies that affect Aboriginal people,’ and after Prime Minister Keven Rudd’s national Apology? It is worth recalling too that the former Prime Minister John Howard initiated moves towards ‘constitutional recognition’ of First Nations people over 15 years ago.

With apologies to Bob Dylan, the answers my friends are not ‘blowing in the wind.’ They are stains on the sacred soil beneath our feet, as Prime Minister Keating courageously testified in Redfern in 1992 and as our Uniting Church Covenant with Congress declared in 1994.

Though I had no policy-making role, I personally witnessed that those in power (even very influential senior bureaucrats) mostly merely served their political purposes and quests for power, rather than to participate in God’s river of justice {Amos} to ‘proclaim liberty to the captives’ {Luke 4} … or to lighten the yoke on the powerless who had nurtured these lands for 180+ generations before my great grandfather and his little family sailed into Port Adelaide in 1850? (Yes, I’m a proud 5th generation Aussie).

But how will the Voice work? And what difference might a permanent Voice into the core of Government make? I hear you ask.

The ‘No’ camp has stated in the Referendum Booklet ‘What we need in Canberra is ears …’ I couldn’t agree more. ‘Puggy’ said to Parliament in the 1990s: You white people have the hearing problems as you don’t seem to hear us.’ Didn’t Jesus say something like that to all in his hearing range?

In my view the Voice will complement and amplify the elected temporary Indigenous presence in the Australian Parliament and invite those small voices to join a larger Voice which will be on a secure footing for the first time since Cook landed.

So this lack of policy coherence is the cultural context we swim in – almost oblivious to the impact it has on First Nations’ lives, generation after generation. It is reasonable to assume that over time, the Voice is likely to act like yeast in the policy-making loaf slowly but surely helping all leaders learn how to really listen.

It will to some extent, and not before time, humble our leaders, as we all are called to ‘walk humbly with our God’ {Micah 6:8}. This, I believe, will mean that the Voice will act like a sprinkling of wisdom into the corridors of Parliament house where numerous well-heeled lobby groups constantly tread.

Further, that through its (legislated) diverse, representative make-up, the Voice will create opportunities for relationships to form or improve in the seat of power (that is, both the public service and Parliament) leading to mature conversations, better leadership and legislation, and over time, much better outcomes through less waste!

The Voice would not only create ways for all communities to have a say on issues and policies that most affect them but shift the ‘culture of Canberra’ to better and more respectful, policy footings.

It might eventually shut the divisive ‘Snakes and Ladders’ game down for the rest of our national story under God.

Nevertheless, the Voice will remain an advisory body shaped and funded by Parliament – which will always choose to respond as it sees fit. So, we can never be sure of its effectiveness..

In my view the big questions are these: Is God calling us to participate in the liberation and healing of some of the most disadvantaged and incarcerated people on God’s good earth by embracing both the Uluru Statement and our precious Covenant with Congress? Regardless of which camp we might initially be attracted to, can we be not afraid despite the noisy fear campaign being unleashed?

Does the Uluru Statement signal God’s generous, forgiving heart? – A call to wake up to the sacred ground on which we stand and urgently help our neighbours and friends better understand what this is all about and why it matters so much? And finally, can we also commit to maintaining friendships regardless of our positions – beyond October 14th?

*Name used with permission from his family


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