Dear Gecko members, friends and supporters,
We are writing to you about this critical moment in Australian political history: the upcoming referendum on an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.
While Gecko Environment Council isn’t part of the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ campaign, we have a strong history of community participation in the. democratic process. As an environmental organisation, we also recognise the importance of listening, learning, and working together with First Nations peoples to protect and care for Country.
A referendum on October 14
Referendums are not common in Australia, and a range of information and misinformation is in the public sphere on the Voice to Parliament, which has meant many are wondering what a referendum is and what this referendum question means.
Referendum: Your answer matters is a good place to start for non-biased clear information about the referendum provided by the Australian Electoral Commission.
On Saturday October 14th, voters will be asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a single question. The question on the ballot paper will be: “A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?”
Learn more about the referendum question here: AEC Learn the question
Our role as an environment council
Gecko Environment Council understands that the First Nations Voice to Parliament is important to the environment movement because …
- First Nations people are the first scientists and leaders in nature restoration, land management and climate solutions.
- Country is inherent to First Nations identity. Country is family, kin, law, lore, ceremony, traditions, and language.
- A First Nations Voice to Parliament will support critical First Nations environmental and climate knowledge and solutions to be heard and implemented, nationally and locally.
- First Nations peoples are disproportionately impacted by the increasing effects of biodiversity loss, fossil fuel/resource extraction, and climate change.
- Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the constitution is a simple, practical step on a journey together. This step is an opportunity to listen and progress the human rights of First Nations Peoples in Australia, to truly close the gap.
- First Nations justice is inseparable from the fight to protect communities, nature, and our climate.
- We support good governance and good decision-making to protect the environment. A group of many eminent retired judges assert that “The Voice to Parliament would enhance Australian governance”
As engaged citizens, having an informed vote is something we all aim for. In the lead up to the referendum there are growing resources and learning opportunities. You can find the Government’s Voice Information here: The Voice, and a new set of resources including explanatory videos in the Government’s community toolkit here: Community Toolkit.
Attending local events with First Nations leaders is also a great way to learn more about the Voice to Parliament. Gecko intends to share some of the local events to support your own information gathering. Gold Coast for Yes hold regular events and you can also express your interest in volunteering here.
A brief history of the Voice to Parliament
The Voice to Parliament is the first step in walking together. ‘The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice will be an independent, representative advisory body for First Nations people. It will provide a permanent means to advise the Australian Parliament and Government on the views of First Nations people on matters that affect them.’ Australian Government: The Voice
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament was an outcome of the Uluru Statement of the Heart. Gecko recognises that more than 80% of First Nation peoples support the Voice, including many in our local communities. You can read about that and much more at Uluru Statement from the Heart.
When it comes to caring for the environment, the Uluru Statement from the Heart contains an important message for all Australians. Professor Megan Davis, Professor of Law, UNSW, says: ‘The environment and climate change was at the core of the Uluru Statement. It was raised in every dialogue with First Nations peoples. And there was a belief among our Elders that the Country (the land) needs to be at peace to face the catastrophe ahead of us. And in order to be at peace, we need First Nations to be included within the life of the state. AND non-Indigenous Australians need to be included in the country and culture that they live’.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is the culmination of generations and decades of work, and was produced through 13 regional 3-day dialogues involving 1200 First Nations people from across Australia. Here’s a 1 minute overview of the Uluru statement from the Heart. For more insight, we recommend watching Dean Parkin’s TEDx talk The Uluru Statement: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
The Uluru Statement from the Heart asks for three things, first the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution, and then a Makarrata commission to supervise a process of agreement- making and truth-telling. These principles have been identified by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as necessary to repair and move forward together, as a united population.
Respecting and caring for each other
Gecko respects diverse personal and political views on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. We can recall during the Marriage Equality Plebiscite, the LGBTIQA+ community experienced increased vilification and discrimination. In such an important moment for learning and conversations, we must ensure we are respectful and looking after each other and our communities.
Gecko Management Committee