A momentous decision

RACHEL PEMBERTON is a Fremantle councillor. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED she explains why it is important that Fremantle Council actively supports an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

THE Voice to Parliament is a momentous decision before all of us as citizens. 

Some have asked why the council would actively campaign and take a position on the issue. 

Firstly, the Fremantle council voted unanimously in 2018 to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which includes the call for a Voice to Parliament. 

This was reaffirmed through the Walyalup Reconciliation Action Plan, developed in collaboration with local elders, First Nations people and local community leaders from all walks of life, and then went out for community consultation back in 2019.  


Specifically, the WRAP committed the City of Fremantle to (Action 5) “promote reconciliation through our sphere of influence” and (Action 12.4) to “continue 

to publicly support the Uluru Statement, and host and/or support events that explain the rationale behind it”, therefore this decision is wholly in line with those existing commitments made by council. 

I also note that in 2019, after those decisions were made (when I was elected for a third time) it was surprising how often this issue came up in my conversations with locals while doorknocking.

I got the sense that this is something that our community cares deeply about and want to be able to do something about. 

This is a very important question we are being asked to vote on in the referendum. 

Noting that First Nations people are just 3.2 per cent of our population, it means that when it comes down to numbers they will always lose. 

Which is why it is up to the rest of us to be informed, ask questions and understand the issues!

I suspect many people are just not sure what it all means, or whether the Voice is the right solution, so to be able to have some resources available to have a meaningful and informed discussion with our community is worthwhile. 

Local Government is the most grassroots level of government, so it is well placed to be able to have meaningful conversations in our community. 

The cultural awareness training undertaken by all City of Fremantle elected members and staff helped me understand the implications of the systemic, structural disadvantage and disempowerment that continues to impact First Nations people today, in our Freo community and beyond. 

This training is something that we offered through One Day event programming, but I hope it will be available more widely in the future to give others an opportunity to grow their understanding, have connection to local Aboriginal people, and to get an opportunity to ask the difficult questions, have the difficult conversations and hear the difficult stories to better understand the issues. 

When you start to get your head around that, it becomes really clear that there is still a lot of work to be done. 

Some people see it as an ‘either/or’ kind of thing, between the practical objectives of Closing the Gap, versus symbolic gestures and statements like the Voice to Parliament or a treaty. 

However, they are in fact deeply linked, because the whole purpose of the Voice to Parliament is to give First Nations communities “a route to help inform policy and legal decisions that impact their lives. Giving people a say will lead to more effective results”. As we mark Closing the Gap Day on March 16, this is very timely reminder.   

First Nations peoples have had to exist in a largely paternal context for generations, where successive governments have “done to” rather than “done with” them. 

And even when things are done with the best of intentions, often it’s really disempowering when people don’t have agency over their own lives or are not able to make decisions based on their own value and knowledge systems. 

Power imbalance

The Voice to Parliament directly addresses this power imbalance and will enable First Nations people to provide vital guidance on determining the policies and programs that impact them and their families directly. 

“A Voice to Parliament gives the Australian government the opportunity to make policies with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, rather than for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Uluru Statement from the Heart says.

Now we don’t quite know what the Voice will look like, or if it will be perfect, but I think it’s a great step in the right direction and well overdue. 

It has the potential to deliver tangible outcomes relating to Closing the Gap and also improve self-autonomy, and culturally appropriate and embraced solutions on many long-standing issues in our wider society.

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