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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health organisations respond to referendum result with calls for action

Introduction by Croakey: At last count, 229 health organisations supported a Yes vote at the recent referendum, in contrast to the majority of Australians who rejected a proposal to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution and to establish a constitutionally enshrined voice to Parliament and the executive.

Croakey has compiled this list as a matter of historical record; if any other organisations should be added, please let us know.

Meanwhile, the National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF), a peak body representing the views of 12 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations working in health and wellbeing, has responded to the outcome, describing it as “a huge disappointment”.

The NHLF urges changes to the ways governments operate, including a transfer of power and resources from governments to communities, and calls for allies to “step up”. Their statement is published in full below.


National Health Leadership Forum statement:

After saying NO to the Voice, Australia must re-commit to fundamental change in the pursuit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities’ wellbeing.

The referendum outcome is a huge disappointment. A large part of the No campaign reflected a deeply immature understanding of Australia’s history and of our foundational legal and political document – the Constitution.

The evidence shows irrefutably that we have racially inequitable and discriminatory legal and political systems, and that successive Australian governments have failed to support our peoples’ wellbeing. The Voice was to be a mechanism to begin changing this – to recognise the false claim of Terra Nullius under which this land was colonised; acknowledge the original inhabitants and custodians of this land and protect our unique status as First Nations peoples; authentically move towards self-determination, ending protectionism and paternalism; lay bare the policies and practices that have perpetuated racism and hurt our communities; and drive true, culturally safe reforms.

As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations who fight for the wellbeing and empowerment of our communities every day, we will continue to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart – Voice, Treaty, Truth.

We want the truth to be told about the history of this land. Australians must recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples did not cede our lands, nor our sovereignty, and thus our right to self-determination continues unbroken.

Governments and mainstream organisations must address the systemic, ingrained racism that our people face every day, and commit to promoting real cultural safety in their environments.

We call on all governments to unequivocally recommit to the implementation of the 2021-2031 National Health and Health Workforce plans and to do so in partnership to develop clear monitoring and accountability frameworks.

We call for governments to re-commit to agreement-making with our organisations and communities, accompanied by partnerships with our allies and the organisations that impact on our wellbeing, to make genuine progress on closing the gap in health outcomes.

The NHLF will continue to advocate for governments to listen to, and work with, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – to support our aspirations, implement our solutions, and change the way government works.

Our peoples and our organisations need:

to have a greater say in how legislation, policies, programs and services that affect our communities are developed, delivered and evaluated

the transfer of power and resources away from governments to our communities so that we can scale up our highly effective, culturally safe services

access to the same information and data as governments to drive policy and decision-making.

A new way forward can only emerge through genuine partnership and shared decision-making that puts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, being and doing at its centre.

We thank our leaders and our allies who gave much of themselves to the campaign to educate, inform, and create opportunities for healthy discussion and to make real change.

Now our allies – including Yes advocates within all governments – must continue to step up if we are to see that change.


From X/Twitter

Watch the video statement by Uluru Dialogue Co-Chair Pat Anderson, an Alyawarre woman 

Wildfire of misinformation

Meanwhile, June Oscar AO, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, has warned that “the civic dysfunction” revealed by the referendum threatens “the very core of our democracy”.

Writing in The Guardian, Oscar said “it is increasingly challenging, if not impossible, to engage in reasonable and safe public discussions in today’s political and media climate”.

The wildfire of misinformation and disinformation that permeated physical and online spaces played a significant role in sowing fear and uncertainty among Australians, she said, with this in turn fuelling “unprecedented levels of racism and intolerance “against First Nations peoples and communities.

“The repercussions of the referendum and the tsunami of prejudice it unleashed will reverberate through the generations, far beyond the polling booths,” she wrote.

However, a momentum for change had been created with millions of Australians, and there were numerous paths ahead, she said.


See Croakey’s portal on the Voice, compiling articles, resources and statements

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