Voice referendum: Olympian Nova Peris on why she’s voting Yes

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I’m not gay, but many of my dearest friends are.

I remember well the vile abuse heaped on them in the same sex marriage campaign for the right of two people, who love each other, to marry a partner as I have.

That debate wasn’t about me, it would have no effect on how I lived my life, but I voted Yes for marriage equality because it was about showing my humanity, it was about allowing people to express their love in a ceremony recognised at law.

That was six years ago. And in the few years since, the hysterical claims that a yes vote posed to society have been shown to be just that – hysterical. Life for most people continues unchanged, but for those who won the right to marry their partner, life has been transformed for the better.

It’s the same with the vote for the Voice. For the overwhelming majority of Australians, a Yes vote will make no difference to their lives. Claims that a Voice is the biggest ever change to our constitution, that it threatens your property, or it will lock you out of national parks, are hysterical scaremongering just like we heard in the marriage equality debate.

Don’t take my word for it. That’s the view of the best legal minds in the country, including former chief justice of the High Court, Robert French, who has rubbished arguments that a Voice to Parliament could lead to constitutional challenges.

In the marriage equality debate, 61 per cent of Australians ignored the hysteria and said Yes to marriage equality.

Now, I’m asking those same 61 per cent of Australians to vote Yes for us, to recognise Australia’s First Peoples.

We have lived on this continent for more than 60,000 years, we have survived and endured longer than any other Indigenous culture on earth.

How is it that after 122 we are still not recognised in Australia’s constitution?

Voting Yes on Saturday will unite and inspire the nation by finally recognising the three per cent of Australians who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

And it will do that with a simple, modest, and practical measure of giving Indigenous people a Voice so that our representatives can offer advice to politicians and bureaucrats when they make policies and laws affecting us.

Listening to Indigenous people can only improve the quality of the policies and the laws that have been so ineffective for so long in addressing the chronic disadvantage Indigenous people suffer.

A Voice to Parliament is a simple idea that has been backed by every doctors and health group in the country. Their members work with us, they know the problems, and they know a Voice is the best hope we have of making progress.

The alternative is to do nothing. It’s to have more of the same where our people die nearly ten years younger than the rest of the community and our kids are more likely to go to jail than university.

To have a positive impact on our lives, we need consistent good legislation and good policies that don’t change every time the government does. That’s the idea behind enshrining this advisory body, this Voice, into the constitution. Australia loses nothing, it only gains.

It’s a modest idea, it’s come from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and our future depends on it.

For 13 years, I proudly represented 23 million Australians in the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. I won gold for you, for me, for us. I did my best to make our country proud.

And on Saturday I’m respectfully asking you to do your best when you represent me, to write YES in the referendum and make our country truly proud.

Nova Peris OAM OLY is a former Senator, dual Australian Olympian and gold medallist and recently inducted into the Sports Australia Hall of Fame. Nova is proud Aboriginal woman of the Gija, Yawuru and Bunitj Gagudju peoples.

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