As a rural women’s health service advocating for equity and social justice, Women’s Health Goulburn North East (WHGNE) has taken time to engage in reflection and robust discussion to reach an organisational position on the National Voice Referendum. From the beginning, it has been clear that our whole team – both the Board and staff at WHGNE – support the process of participatory democracy, agreeing on the imperative to encourage our community to reflect deeply on their values, source credible, efficacious information and ultimately to make an informed decision on how to vote. Respect for the diverse perspectives of First Nations communities, their autonomy and their decision-making processes, coupled with respect and consideration for First Nations people in how the broader community express their own positions on the Voice, have been central to our discussions.
Understanding the role of WHGNE in advocating for a vote one way or the other required us to reflect on whether we, as a non-Indigenous led organisation, should take a definitive stance, outside of encouraging participatory democracy and respectful debate. As we approach our work through the lens of equity and justice, we strive to contribute to a society, a region, an organisation – that acknowledges the ongoing legacy of colonialism and the impact that political exclusion has wrought on First Nations communities. Through our work to prevent gender-based violence we are acutely aware of the disproportionate number of victim-survivors from First Nations communities who suffer long term injury, trauma and ill-health as a result of family violence, compounded by a lack of culturally appropriate care and services. The unacceptably high rates of Indigenous people in the prison or foster care system lays bare the failures of our political, legal and social systems to serve as sites of care and service, instead entrenching inequity and injustice.
Throughout the work we do at WHGNE, it is crystal clear that we must center the voices of First Nations communities and work together to embed Indigenous led, culturally appropriate policies and practices at a community, institutional and government level. Crucially, we must collectively recognise the imperative to acknowledge the need for Indigenous leadership in applying traditional knowledge and practices connected to this country for over 60,000 years, to pursue climate justice and a meaningful effort towards addressing climate change. The leadership, innovation and generosity demonstrated by Indigenous Australians in driving political reform, sharing cultural learning, enabling non-Indigenous Australians to walk together towards truth telling – and ultimately Treaty and Reconciliation – has had a profound impact on how we collectively perceive our national and cultural identity, as well as how we connect to and care for this ancient and beautiful country.
Through this process of reflecting on our work and our organisational values it has become clear that we fundamentally cannot claim neutrality in this process. WHGNE unequivocally supports an Indigenous Voice to Parliament and the application of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. While we encourage our community to consider voting ‘yes’ when referendum day comes, WHGNE understands there are diverse perspectives and opinions in the broader community. While we respect the democratic process, we would urge everyone to engage in civil and culturally considerate discourse around this topic and make an effort to source credible information, seek out the perspectives of First Nations communities and reflect deeply on individual and community values before coming to a decision.