Minister Burney at Women For Yes: “This referendum will be won conversation by conversation”

Opening remarks from Hon Linda Burney MP, Minister for Indigenous Australians, at the ‘Women For Yes’ campaign launch (Sunday 13 August 2023, Athenaeum Theatre, Naarm). In this speech, Minister Burney gives thanks to supporters of the Voice proposal, reminding listeners that this referendum will be won conversation by conversation.


Hon Linda Burney MP: From my people, the Wiradjuri People of south western New South Wales I pay my respect to the people of this land, the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation, and I extend that respect to all First Nations people here today from all points of the southern sky. And thank you for the warm Welcome to Country by Leanne Miller and Duré Dara OAM.

It’s just wonderful to be here today in this beautiful hall in Melbourne, full of people of good heart and goodwill.

Alana Johnson AM, Fiona Stanley AC, Belinda Duarte AM, Maria Dimopoulos AM, Ilona Lee AM. There’s lots of letters here. Lord Mayor Sally Capp AO, Julianne Schultz AM, Tanja Kovac, whom I’ve known for a very long time, and also Professor Supriya Singh.

And I am sure there are lots of other dignitaries here, but most importantly, thank you to you all for spending this afternoon with us. And yes, Go the Matildas. I watched the second half of the game last night and thought I was going to choke.

So thank you so, so much for coming. You are an impressive and powerful group of people.

You are an important and inspirational group of people. I want to recognise the Victorian Women’s Trust and their leader Mary Crooks AO for the significant contribution you’re making to the referendum campaign. I remember first hearing I remember everyone first hearing about what the Victorian Women’s Trust was planning coming out of the block so early. It was truly inspirational. And I can say to you with great sincerity that what you’re doing matters.

This referendum will be won conversation by conversation, which is the very heart of your campaign, grounding the national conversation in respect and civility, in truth and honesty. And that is so important.

There has been a lot of misinformation, disinformation, but for our campaign to be successful, we stay above that, we stay true, we stay honest, we stay positive, and we stay true to the notion of just how unifying, how important this will be for the Australian people and to the fact that it will make a practical difference in the lives of First Nations people right across this country.

I seek to carry myself in that spirit and I know that you do too. As I travel around this country spreading the word I draw inspiration from my personal totem, a messenger bird, the white cockatoo, and a very noisy bird at that.

I want to acknowledge all of you for coming together today. I draw inspiration from you all. I truly, truly do. I feel very emotional being here today. You give me such strength.

Thank you for coming together for this powerful moment. Women and some male fellow travellers are here, to come together, to learn and to listen. Women understand the power of listening. We understand what it’s like to have no voice or to have it taken away. We feel what it’s like not to be heard. We know what it’s like to be held back by a ceiling.

Growing up, everyone, I was told that my capacity is limited by my race, that my potential was capped by expectations. I was born at a time when a white woman having an Aboriginal baby was shocking, and doubly so if she was not married.

That was my mother. At a time when the Australian government knew how many sheep there were, but not how many Aboriginal people.

The Voice will be about delivering practical outcomes and improving results, removing limitations and lifting expectations. And that is something we can all get behind. And sisters, we have a big job ahead of us.

Later this year all of us will be asked the simple question: Do you support a change to the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice — yes or no?

It is — yes.

Minister Burney: What is it?

Audience: Yes!

Minister Burney: It is that simple.

122 years ago, Australia’s constitution was formed. 50 years since the historic 1967 Referendum. I know many of you would remember. I was ten years old. 15 years since the Apology. 6 years since the Uluṟu Statement from the Heart. The question must surely be asked, how much longer do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to wait for recognition?

In 2023 we are finally getting the opportunity to truly recognise First Nations people. This is our moment. Our moment to move this country forward and we have to grab this opportunity with both hands, because we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by supporting recognition.

This isn’t a question that has come out of nowhere. This referendum is the culmination of decades of careful work and advocacy on recognition. When I think about the history of this movement, I think of trailblazers like Faith Bandler. I think of the leadership role she played in the ‘67 Referendum, which saw our people finally counted.

I think of Megan Davis and Pat Anderson through thousands of conversations, building consensus in our community through a dialogue process. I think of women like Marcia Langton, who along with Tom Calma, have given shape to the invitation of what the Uluṟu Statement represents.

And I think of some of the women leading the campaign, like Rachel Perkins, Tanya Hosch, Karen Mundine, Catherine Tanna, Chloe Wighton, and so many of you in this room. These are some of the women who have laid the building blocks that led us to where we are today.

Their wisdom and strength is guiding us down the long road to recognition. They are united in their determination as you are, to get this done. United in our understanding of what is needed, united in our understanding of the urgency, united in determination to move things forward for First Nations people and indeed for all people in this country. To deliver meaningful and practical recognition for Australia’s First People. And those three things is what this referendum is about.

Firstly, it’s about finally recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution and paying respect to something that we all share. 65,000 years of culture, tradition, story and song. Secondly, it’s about listening to advice to a committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about matters that affect our lives so that governments can make better decisions. Because we know when we listen, and the women’s movement has shown us this, we know we get the third thing. We get better results. Making practical progress in Indigenous health, education, jobs and housing, so that people can have a better life.

Recognition, listening and getting better results. It is that fundamental. Through an idea that comes directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves. As part of the Uluṟu Statement all those years ago in 2017.

That is what this referendum is about. The Closing the Gap data shows that 4 of the 19 targets are on track. Just 4 out of 19. It’s unacceptable. It’s offensive. We have to do better.

So, friends, we have a big job ahead of us. When the First Peoples of this ancient continent are recognised in our nation’s birth certificate, we will have a better country. We will have a kinder country. We will have a more reconciled country.

Importantly, we will be able to look ourselves in the eye knowing the document on which our country was founded finally tells the truth. Women played such an important role in the last federal election, and I know we can summon that same power once more and change the country again later this year.

My sisters, my brothers. History is calling us. Let’s get this done together.


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