More than 220 doctors working in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services have funded a series of newspaper advertisements supporting the Voice. Emeritus Professor Jennifer Reath explains why below.
Jennifer Reath writes:
You might have seen the advertisements appearing in newspapers around the country over the past few days – signed by 228 doctors working in Aboriginal Medical Services.
I am writing to Croakey readers to share the backstory to that advertisement, in the hope that it might motivate others to do whatever you can with your networks to support the momentum for a Yes vote.
All of the work and fund-raising that went into making those advertisements began less than a week ago, last Friday (6 October).
I am a non-Indigenous GP and academic who has had the immense privilege of working in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services for more than 30 years. I have worked in services in urban, regional and remote settings in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia.
As a result, I have first-hand experience of communities leading policies and services – the ACCHS philosophy of community control. It was obvious to support both the Uluru Statement and a Yes vote for a constitutionally enshrined Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament and the executive.
Last Friday I realised that I’d been waiting for someone else to provide a message from doctors like me working in the sector in support of a Yes vote. I realised then that it was time to step up.
Leaders in the community controlled health sector endorsed my idea and with the support of colleagues, including Dr Tim Senior and many others, I am proud that in a matter of days we were able to raise $28,000 and 228 signatories for the open letter. I am grateful to each and every colleague who donated dollars as well as their names, and also thank Yes23 and Aaron Green there who did the graphics and placed the ad for us.
I was honoured that the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association agreed to authorise the advertisement, and note that more than a dozen of the signatories are Indigenous doctors. Some of these colleagues shared deeply personal stories with me about why the Voice is so important to them and their families and communities.
Since we finalised the advertisement, at least another 20 doctors have been in touch wanting to add their names. If there had been more time, I’m sure we would have had at least 300 signatories.
Working on this campaign over the past week has reminded me just what an amazing group of doctors and communities I have had the privilege of working with. It has been an amazing sector to work in.
To be honest, I’ve been quite horrified by the misinformation spread during the campaign and have worried that Australia seems to be following the polarisation seen in the United States.
But this week I’ve been handing out Yes leaflets at Mt Druitt, where I helped set up an AMS here 36 years ago, and have been enormously heartened by the positive responses. People have been telling me, ‘of course I’m voting yes’.
I’d like to end by encouraging you all to wear your Yes badges and T-shirts, talk to people, hop on the phones, have those conversations.
And the final words come from our collective, as expressed in the advertisement:
“As doctors who have worked with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in health services run by their communities, we have seen first hand the health and social disadvantage in these communities and the toll it takes on individuals, families, communities and our nation.
“We have seen the improvements in health, employment, education and empowerment that having a voice in their healthcare makes in these communities.
“We believe the Voice to Parliament is the best chance we have of spreading these improvements more widely. It’s a belief based on our day-to-day work. We know that listening to our patients, and working with them, is the best way to improve health.
“We urge you to consider your vote carefully. Please take this opportunity we are offered to find a new and better way of working together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to enable them the same future as other Australians.
“We believe a YES vote will bring healing to our nation as a whole.”
• Jennifer Reath is an emeritus professor in the School of Medicine at Western Sydney University. She retired from practice as a GP a year ago but remains involved with research and professional activities. In recognition of her life long work in Aboriginal health, Professor Reath was awarded the 2016 Associate Member of the Year by the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association.
• Note from Croakey: Minor edits were made to this article after publication.
See Croakey’s portal on the Voice, compiling articles, resources and statements