Aunty Jill is a Gunditjmara woman and Elder from western Victoria who has worked within, led and advocated for the Victorian Aboriginal community all her life. Since 1998 this has been through the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), now one of Australia's largest and most effective state Aboriginal peak advocacy organisations. As CEO since 2001, Jill has exacted a major change in the organisation's status, by working to raise its profile and highlight its pivotal role in addressing Aboriginal health issues.
Victoria’s Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation CEO Jill Gallagher says if Australia misses the opportunity to enshrine an Indigenous Voice into the constitution, then “we’re going to continue with our voices disempowered”.
“We need the constitutional protection, we need this Voice enshrined in there,”
“Then everything else underneath that will be worked out.”
Ms Gallagher said Aboriginal politicians aren’t an “independent voice for the Aboriginal community” as they have to follow the party line.
As a senior Aboriginal leader, I am often asked for my thoughts and views.
In recent months I have been disgusted by the repeated calculated attempts by some politicians to interfere with, delay, and essentially hijack Australia’s path towards enshrining an Aboriginal Voice into Australia’s constitution.
It’s well over two centuries since the brutal and rapid colonisation of Aboriginal land commenced.
Diseases were introduced. Children were taken from their parents and Community. Fathers were locked up. Then of course there were the massacres.
No doubt there have been some positive steps forward over the years.
They want us to be 'silent, voiceless and powerless'
In 1967 Australians voted overwhelmingly to amend the Constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the census.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2008 Apology was another encouraging moment.
However, the recent opposition and political games around the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution show that there are still individuals who want to suppress the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
To put it simply – there are still individuals in positions of power who do not want my people to be a part of this country.
They want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be silent, voiceless, and powerless.
When our lands were invaded our people were completely disempowered. Our ways of knowing, being and doing – our Culture – our ways of life were taken from us.
We were told when to eat. We were told when to go to sleep.
We were told whether we could own property or not.
I’d like to remind the leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, and the leader of the National Party, David Littleproud, that Aboriginal people fought in the two world wars. They were not eligible for soldier settlements.
All the disempowerment. The complete lack of opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. All of the dispossession. The genocides that have been committed over the last 250 years.
None of this can be denied.
It's time to stop the fear mongering
Smug and calculated requests for “additional detail” are ignoring the fact that many of Australia’s 44 proposed constitutional changes since 1906 were not heavy on every single finite detail to allow for greater flexibility.
As Constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey recently highlighted in media reports – we do not want things “frozen” into the constitution without flexibility.
I’m also aware of some of the opposition to the Voice from within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. From my perspective, this debate and discussion amongst Community is a healthy one – and perfectly normal.