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Fr Frank Brennan SJ with then Victorian Equal Opportunity Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton and Professor Megan Davis in front of the Uluru Statement in 2018 (Eureka Street)

What are Catholics to think about the proposed referendum on the Voice to Parliament, asks Fr Frank Brennan SJ. Source: The Catholic Weekly.

Our recent Australian Plenary Council endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart and encouraged, “engagement with processes for implementing the statement, including local, regional, and national truth-telling efforts.”

I suggest 10 steps for Catholics inspired by our Catholic social teaching when approaching the forthcoming referendum. I couch these suggestions in terms appropriate for those of us who are not Indigenous.

The first five of these steps are:

1. Be attentive to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Stop telling them what is good for them. Start listening to them. Accept that they know what is good for them, just as we know what is good for us and our loved ones.

2. Don’t expect all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to agree about legal, political and constitutional questions. It’s called living in a democracy.

3. Form respectful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and engage in respectful conversations with those who are your friends.

4. Having heard a range of Indigenous voices, make your own decisions about what Aboriginal aspirations are morally justified. What would be right and proper for Australia in the 21st century? For example, the Commonwealth Parliament has power to make special laws about First Nations people. Many Aboriginal people now say, “No special laws without us!”

5. Know your history; know the Aboriginal history. The Australian Constitution does not even mention Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders. They belong in the Constitution. Their belonging should be explicit and particular.

Whatever the politics of this referendum, we all need to take to heart Noel Pearson’s chilling observation about his people: “We are a much-unloved people. We are perhaps the ethnic group Australians feel least connected to. We are not popular and we are not personally known to many Australians. Few have met us and a small minority count us as friends.”


Fr Frank Brennan SJ: How to vote on the Voice (By Fr Frank Brennan SJ, The Catholic Weekly)