Why the Salvos support the Voice to Parliament
By CAPTAIN STUART GLOVER
The Salvation Army is one of Australia’s biggest providers of social services. We are on the ground providing hope in more communities than McDonald’s is serving burgers.
We are a pragmatic movement, not into empty gestures or performative virtue signalling. So it might come as a surprise, given some of the commentary around it, that The Salvation Army is a steadfast supporter of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.
That is because, simply put, we don’t think a Voice will be hollow symbolism.
It will be powerfully symbolic, of course, but it will also be deeply practical in a way that can lead to better outcomes and enrich the experience of both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians together.
Let me explain why.
For around 140 years, Salvos have rolled up their sleeves and helped where they can. We started social services with a modest program assisting discharged prisoners at the prison gates in Melbourne, and now we provide over 2000 services across every state and territory in Australia. We support people experiencing homelessness, family and domestic violence, financial hardship, unemployment, social isolation and loneliness and help them recover from natural disasters.
Throughout our history, we have learnt the hard way about delivering services without listening, thinking we knew best. This approach did not work then and does not work now. This has been our most important lesson over the past 140 years ... you can’t help people if you’re not listening to them.
You can’t deliver a great service without actively listening to the people using it.
You can’t draft a great policy if you’re not listening to the people who have to follow it.
You can’t make great law if you’re not listening to the people who will be impacted by it.
When we engage with people impacted by disadvantage, we find areas of strength that provide a platform for change. When we make space for people to feel empowered and equipped, the level of innovation is astounding. When we acknowledge our country’s vastness and diversity, we can find local solutions that work in ways that couldn’t be imagined from an air-conditioned conference room in a capital city.
The Salvos live, love and fight for justice wherever they can. We have met with many MPs and Senators in the new Parliament and, without exception and wherever they sit in the chambers, we have heard their desire to make good laws. I believe they want to listen.
I think all governments try to consult, but there are some very practical constraints. This is a huge country, and with over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations, consulting with people from three or four nations is not going to get the best results. We have 151 seats in the House of Representatives for a reason. We all know that someone speaking for inner-city Sydney can’t speak for people in rural Western Australia or remote areas of the Northern Territory (nor vice versa).
A constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament creates an opportunity to start to make real progress on addressing the terrible disadvantage our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians experience.
It will allow our lawmakers – not just the government but those in parliament we rely on to keep the government accountable – to hear directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They will get access to the diversity of views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders about matters that will affect them differently depending on their circumstances. They will get information not filtered by multiple levels of government, not varnished and polished by service providers, nor sanitised into talking points by public servants.
Of course, we all want more detail about what the Voice will look like. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people absolutely need to do due diligence on something this important. I believe that once we have the Voice in the Constitution, Parliament can work together to ensure it delivers on its promise. That is how it has worked for every other public institution in Australia’s history, and no other reform has been perfect from day one. But I understand why other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don’t have that kind of faith. Our history is littered with ‘consultation’ with mob that has been ignored.
That diversity of thought needs to be respected. Diversity will make a Voice to Parliament that much more powerful if, and when, it does become part of the Constitution. This is what The Salvation Army is praying will happen – because of the other thing we have learnt over 140 years of helping Australians ...
It is hard to listen to people if you don’t let them have a voice.
Captain Stuart Glover is the Secretary for Mission, responsible for The Salvation Army’s social services in Australia and a proud member of the Bundjalung Nation.
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