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  • Writer's pictureGregory Andrews

The Voice is about acknowledgment and inclusion

Updated: May 4, 2023

When I flew the Aboriginal flag on my vehicle as Australia’s Ambassador to nine countries in West Africa, there were no protocols to say I could. I didn’t ask for permission. I knew I’d be told 'No'. So as an Aboriginal person, I took the risk and just did it. After all, the flag is an official flag of Australia. I didn’t get any feedback from my Canberra bosses. Nothing positive or negative. I expect it was awkward for them. They might have remarked among themselves that I wasn't acting in accordance with Geneva Convention protocols or DFAT policies. While this may be technically correct, ethically and from national interest and smart diplomacy perspectives, I knew I was doing the right thing. I also know the silent majority at DFAT respected what I did. Like me, they want to recognise and celebrate the 60,000 years of Indigenous heritage we have to share.

That's why it's important for Australians to vote Yes later this year for constitutional recognition and a voice to Parliament. At the moment Australia's Constitution says nothing about our Indigenous peoples, their heritage and their contributions.

During a recent speech to Year 11 and 12 students in Canberra, I was asked why the referendum will be important. I gave two reasons. First, I said it would be an Acknowledgment of Country at the national level. Our nation's founding document needed to acknowledge our First Australians and the 99.6 per cent of human history that occurred here before we were colonised. Second, recognition without inclusion is just numbers. That’s why the Voice element is important. It’s about including and listening.

While I know Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Prime Minister Albanese and Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney would be supportive if asked, I expect I remain the only Australian Ambassador to have ever flown the Aboriginal flag on my vehicle. (Former DFAT colleagues, please tell me I’m wrong.) I do know, however, that I don’t want to be the last. Just as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags fly behind our Prime Minister during his press conferences, I’d like to see them flying on the front bonnets of all our Ambassadorial vehicles. From Beijing, to Beirut and Buenos Aires they can be celebrating and promoting First Australian heritage. And like the PM did at Mardi Gras, they can tell people "this is modern Australia".

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