A message from Jack Heath, CEO, Philanthropy Australia

Fri, 13 Oct 2023

Tomorrow on Saturday 14 October the Australian people will vote in a referendum on whether to recognise the First Peoples of these lands in the Federal Constitution and to give them a voice. It’s a very simple proposition and an extremely modest ask of the Australian people.

Earlier this year, Philanthropy Australia asked its members whether the organisation should express a view on the upcoming referendum. The overwhelming view of members was to support the proposition. And we did. It followed on from the role Philanthropy Australia had played in 2019 in the development of an open letter from philanthropy in response to the magnanimous and generous invitation extended in the Uluru Statement from the Heart to walk together for a better future for all Australians. We continue to accept the invitation extended in the Uluru Statement. We continue to hold out for that better future.

I would encourage you to take a look on iview at Senator Pat Dodson’s inspiring address to the National Press Club especially his comments towards the end of the address.

But irrespective of where the vote lands, there is so much more for philanthropy to do in backing in the First Peoples of this country, in shifting power, mobilising resources, improving our granting practices, undertaking RAPs, nurturing new leaders, and supporting the elders who have unselfishly shouldered the charge for so long, along with their communities. 

Philanthropy Australia will shortly convene its First Nations Funders Network to pursue these goals under the leadership of Adrian Appo and Leah Armstrong. We welcome members’ active participation in the network as we seek to build that better future.   

And what have we learned these past weeks of the referendum campaign? 

The one thing that stands out for me is the unfortunate fact that few Australians have spent time in the company of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – I’d venture that the majority of Australians simply don’t have a human experience of the people this referendum seeks to recognise. In the case of the marriage equality plebiscite, there were very few of us who didn’t know a friend, family member or colleague who was gay. That human experience significantly reduced the likelihood that people would be fearful, suspicious, or swayed by trolls and miscreants. But let’s see what the Australian people decide on Saturday.

Amid all the toxicity on display in recent weeks, one of the most positive things we have seen is the emergence of a swathe of inspiring young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island leaders. That should give us all hope and we should back them.