Australia votes – a nation’s shame

There are so many things to say about the campaign for a Voice to Parliament, but the first thing to say is sorry. Sorry not just to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but sorry for all of us, who are a part of this shame on our nation.

The Justice and Peace Office of the Sydney Archdiocese issues this apology to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We are so sorry the majority of Australians have denied you a Voice to Parliament. We are so sorry that your generous invitation to walk together to make a better, more beautiful and inclusive Australia has been rejected. We can only imagine the pain, anger and frustration that so many First Nations people will be experiencing today.

You are a people descended from the oldest civilisation on earth, a people whose wisdom and generosity are so sorely needed in Australia today. All of our nation is poorer today than we were yesterday.

For all those who voted No, this is a day of shame. The vote for No is and always was, a vote for the status quo – a state that sees First Nations people continue to be the most incarcerated people on the planet, continue to have their children alienated from their families at unprecedented rates, have a life expectancy 11 years less for men and 9 for women than for other Australians, lower average birth weight, poorer education, housing and health outcomes and higher rates of suicide. Those who voted No appear to be content with the ongoing torment of powerlessness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This is a moment of national shame and regardless how hard we work to extract some goodness from this historic event, it will remain a moment of national shame.

We understand that if the nation is so impoverished of spirit we are unable to give a Voice to First Nations people, the prospect of Treaty or the capacity to hear Truth-Telling is nigh on impossible. We are all poorer for this. Non-indigenous Australians will continue to live in the fantasy of a peaceful settlement of Australia, will continue to believe in the delusion of an Australia where we are all as good as each other. If this is the truth, why has the ugly reality of the Gap continue to be a chasm?

But for all those who voted Yes, who hoped for a better outcome, a better nation, our job continues to advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. How will we appear to the international community?

To that end the Justice and Peace Office will continue to advocate for raising the age to 14, to removing kids from detention and adult prisons, will continue to demand an Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act that protects the Sacred places like the Juuken Gorge and Murujuga, formerly known as the Burrup Peninsula, and continue to build relationships that will help close the gap.

We will continue on the road to reconciliation and hope the First Nation peoples of Australia will continue to show the generosity and kindness they have shown throughout this referendum period.

The schism that exists in the soul of our nation remains deep today. Our hope is that in time, together we can repair the damage done to all in our nation by the destructive force of No. What we can continue to do, and invite all interested parties to join us in, is build partnerships for development together, showing what is possible when we work with the First People of this nation.