“You have to trust Indigenous people when we say this reform, having a Voice – it’s not a radical idea, it’s in fact a very modest idea – will be crucial for us to close the gap,” Indigenous leader Noel Pearson told an Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) webinar last week.
“Australians seem to have strong opinions about what works and what doesn’t work when they have very little idea of actually what is happening on the ground and what is desperately needed,” Pearson went on, explaining that as an example, the life expectancy gap is 30 years in remote communities.
“There has been this very dramatic collapse caused by diabetes, caused by substance abuse and caused by diseases like rheumatic heart disease, that we could eradicate,” he said.
“We’ve got to give ourselves 10, 20, 30 years to close the gap on life expectancy … We’re going to have to have good programs, good support, we’re going to have to rebuild families, rebuild communities, we’re going to have to get people out of poverty. Those are big challenges for us.
“And what you can’t have is an advisory body that lasts for one term of Parliament and [is] then scrapped.”
He explained that “everything concerning the detail of the Voice is in the power of the Parliament”.
“It’s extremely disingenuous for any politician to ask where are the details, when in fact it will be their duty, their function, to furnish the details,” he said.
Pearson said by answering people’s concerns and questions while campaigning around Australia he had been able to turn their voting intentions around.
“I urge everyone to have conversations about the actual words, not what people are presenting, you know, as commentary around the referendum,” he said.
He also paid tribute to the Jewish community for its support of Indigenous issues, singling out Ron Castan, Mark Leibler and Julian Leeser.
“I just enjoin your council and your community to help us in this next five-plus weeks so that we get the kind of outcome that will push Australia forward and reconcile the First Peoples with the rest of the country,” he concluded. “It is so desperately important.”
Meanwhile, ECAJ announced last week that its elected councillors had voted overwhelmingly to support a Yes vote.
While announcing ECAJ’s position, president Jillian Segal recognised “that there is a range of views” in the Jewish and wider communities on the issue.
“We have called on all participants in the referendum campaign to conduct the debate on this historic issue in a fair, informed and dignified manner, as befits our great democracy,” she said.