Malcolm Baalman, PHAA Senior Policy and Advocacy Advisor
Health sector organisations have decisively taken positions backing changes to the Australian Constitution at the referendum on 14 October to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and create an advisory Voice institution to represent them to government.
PHAA, medical associations including the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Australian Medical Association (AMA), Indigenous health services, and other social welfare organisations have in recent weeks released supportive statements of the Voice proposal.
“There is striking consistency of support across the whole health sector,” PHAA Chief Executive Adj Prof Terry Slevin said.
“Health organisations – whether prevention advocates, treatment specialists or professional associations – all recognise that giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a voice in identifying health priorities and informing health responses makes sense.
“We have seen that great results come from the Aboriginal community-controlled sector, where those closest to the communities often get the best health outcomes for their people.
“The same will be true of representation to put forward high-level policy advice, which is what the Voice will be mandated to do.”
After some of the leaders of the Uluru Dialogue condemned racist remarks made by No campaigners, PHAA President, Adj Prof Tarun Weeramanthri AM, on 21 August tweeted: “Choose hope, optimism and unity over fear, racism and division.”
In August the RACP released a statement that the group was “committed to the principles of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including constitutional recognition and the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.”
The College says “a First Nations Voice to Parliament is a critical step towards genuine reconciliation and will lead to real health benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities.
“The RACP recognises the historical and ongoing trauma of colonisation and its impacts on the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of First Nations people. The legacy of colonisation continues to manifest in health inequities that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face today, including a lower life expectancy.”
The RACGP also supported the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament, with President Dr Nicole Higgins announcing the group’s official position in July.
“The Voice to Parliament will help drive changes to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and address the inequity in our health system. The RACGP’s position on the Voice builds on our previous advocacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health, including our endorsement of the Uluru Statement from the Heart recommendations, and our commitment to close the gap in health inequality.”
The AMA position, released in June, is that the association “supports formal recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution and the establishment of the Voice to Parliament. The AMA considers that this recognition presents a tangible opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) also firmly supports creating the Voice.
In a key speech in early August NACCHO CEO, Pat Turner AM, pointed out that “the Uluru Statement from the Heart represented a major interruption to the existing policy debate on Indigenous Affairs. It asserts a right of our people to an ongoing voice in the Australian political system.
“Put simply, it says we should have a say in the laws, policies and programs that have a significant effect on our lives and communities. It is a straightforward idea. If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have direct input into the decisions on policies and programs that impact on us, the outcomes will be vastly better than when those decision are made without us.”
Wider social wellbeing groups also supported the significance of creating a Voice for health outcomes.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the trade union movement will be mobilising for the Yes vote now that the Prime Minister has announced the referendum date. The ACTU executive had previously passed a resolution supporting a “Yes” result in October last year.
“We know we get better outcomes in the workplace when bosses listen to workers, just as we know doctors get better outcomes when they listen to patients,” Ms McManus said this week.
“It stands to reason then that policymakers listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s voice on issues that impact their lives will also lead to better outcomes. The union movement has listened to its membership, who are keen to walk with their Indigenous colleagues, and we will be supporting members to campaign on this issue.”
Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said in June that “ACOSS strongly believes that governments make better policies when they listen to the people that will be impacted by them. But for too long, First Nations voices have been ignored by governments.
“The Voice to Parliament will give First Nations people a constitutionally-protected opportunity to be heard and is a common sense way to secure policies that improve health outcomes, and reduce poverty and disadvantage.”