The Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) has released its position statement on the upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum, declaring its support for the proposed law to alter the Constitution, yet, also calling for more action.
“CATSINaM believes that a constitutionally enshrined Voice could be a fundamental provision towards recognising the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” the statement reads.
“It could be a demonstration of a maturing national consciousness which could signify our collective will to honour the sovereignty and self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“This opportunity could be leveraged to ignite impactful change but requires adherence to the highest level of political integrity. The precarious status of the Voice reflects the uncertainty we see in the Australian public, the rightful recipients of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This uncertainty is not a reflection of our level of preparedness to lead our people and communities, a common racialised assumption about our lack of capacity. Rather, it reflects our enduring powerlessness that is the legacy of British and Australian colonialism.
“The upcoming referendum on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice is a test of the maturity of Australia. The outcome of the referendum is reliant upon the will and courage of non-Indigenous Australians to recognise the unceded sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and thus recognise our right to self-determination including to have a Voice on decisions that impact our families and communities. We call for action, and not platitudes and hopefulness, as the latter have proven ineffective.”
The peak body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives, CATSINaM says that, as a diverse group of sovereign peoples, it has the right to debate what is best for its peoples, which could be a function of the Voice. But it concedes many people believe that more needs to be done.
“Some of our people fear that, if realised, a constitutionally enshrined Voice will further disempower the historically unrepresented and threaten our sovereignty,” the position statement says.
“Some believe that the Voice is not enough. Their scepticism, distrust and fears are not unfounded. Their wariness of the political process is the legacy of colonisation, intentional in its purpose to disempower and deprive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of our rights.
The resistance of some of our people to the Voice is about wanting more – recognition, rights, and certainty. Other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples prefer the status quo, and some have even demonstrated that they are willing to forego Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ sovereignty, assuming authority that no single person has the privilege to exercise. Their resistance to the Voice is about wanting the same, or less.
“Accepting the same or less perpetuates racist narratives about the apparent inherent helplessness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. A narrative that conveniently idealises colonialism, ignoring its violence, as well as the failures of successive Australian governments.
“We see this racism today, disguised as political and media commentary, that so obviously prescribe to racialised understandings of us and our apparent lack of capacity and undeserving entitlement to our rights as Indigenous peoples.”
CATSINaM’s statement concludes by calling for “an ethic of care”.
“A care that challenges any investment in racism against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, especially in discussions that should be about our relationships and our shared future.
“A care that understands the harmful precedent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples being weaponised as pawns for political gain, a contemporaneous and conventional part of Australian democracy.
“A care that truly acknowledges that we live here together on unceded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands, and that our future together, here, should not just be determined by non-Indigenous peoples. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, sovereign peoples of our respective countries, deserve a Voice, and much more.”