Why Indigenous doctors say we should be saying ‘yes’ to the Voice

Dr Simone Raye
Dr Simone Raye.

As we head towards the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum on 14 October, we know that current systems and processes are failing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

As I heard Ngunnawal woman Selina Walker say recently at the National Rural Maternity Services Forum: “If we change nothing, nothing changes.”

The Productivity Commission’s latest Closing the Gap: Annual Data Compilation Report shows that health targets are not on track, or have worsened, leaving our Indigenous people behind.

The mission of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) is to work towards achieving health equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a culturally safe healthcare system, while creating a safer system to ensure the wellbeing of our current and future doctors.

Systemic racism and discrimination also harm health and cannot be tolerated in any healthcare setting. We also know that cultural safety is clinical safety.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must have a voice in determining how they access appropriate, affordable and culturally safe healthcare wherever they are in Australia and in whichever setting they choose.

AIDA therefore supports the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

We think that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should have a say in policies that affect their lives, including government policies that have a direct impact on health and wellbeing. 

The Voice offers huge potential to close the gap in unacceptable health disparities. It’s the much needed step in giving our people a voice, a seat the table, a role in shaping policies that directly impact their future.

It was only 61 years ago, on 21 May 1962, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were finally given the option to enrol to vote in federal elections.

It wasn’t until the 1967 referendum that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be counted in the official figures collected in the national census.

In 1971, Neville Bonner became the first Aboriginal person to sit in the Commonwealth Parliament, with other trailblazers following in his footsteps.

On 21 May 2022, a record number of First Nations people were elected to federal Parliament, and Linda Burney was the first Aboriginal woman appointed as Minister for Indigenous Australians.

First Nations voices from across the political spectrum elevated in record numbers in an arena where historically we were not welcome and excluded. The Uluru Statement from the Heart was a very important step in bringing us to this referendum.

As doctors and other health professionals, we know how important it is for people to feel heard and understood.

We also have a professional and moral obligation to comment on social practices and policies that are harmful to people’s health, physically and mentally.

Systemic inequality and racism, the destruction of culture and language, the significant family and community dislocation through the stolen generations — the pain within our nation’s history — is still felt today. This cannot be ignored.

Self-determination can be powerfully protective against psychological distress. Being heard. Being at the heart of the decisions that impact your life.

Within healthcare, there is a growing body of work dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing frameworks, research and practices. It’s used by many Indigenous peoples to describe the social, emotional, spiritual and cultural wellbeing of a person.

In essence, our sense of self is inextricably linked to family, community and Country.

The resilience, wisdom, knowledge and methods of the oldest living culture — spanning over 60,000 years — tells us a lot about health and healing.

It’s relational. It’s about connection. It’s about unity.

The wounds and the trauma from generations of inequality, discrimination and racism run deep.

The process and impacts of colonisation are more than physical. They are a cultural and psychological process that determines whose knowledge and voices are heard.

It filters into social, political, health and mental health systems.

Just as colonisation took time, so will healing our nation.

To heal, we must have a voice. 

An Indigenous Voice to Parliament protected by the constitution is a critical and powerful step forward for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Ultimately, it is an opportunity we cannot miss, which is why we are supporting the ‘Yes’ campaign for the Voice to Parliament.

This will acknowledge and continue the work of Elders past and present, while creating a brighter future for the following generations.

It’s a historical step forward for us as a country — connected, unified and optimistic.

Dr Simone Raye is president of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) and a proud Bardi Jabbir Jabbir woman from the Kimberley, WA. As a medical student, Dr Raye was closely involved with the initial meetings that led to the formation of AIDA. She works as a GP in Darwin, does healthcare advocacy work, and provides mentoring and support to Indigenous medical doctors nationally.

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