Why the Voice is important

by | Sep 19, 2023 | Ability News, Disability Community

Journalists are trained to discover drama, a clash, a headline – the rest can wait. We rush to find conflict. And this is precisely why we’ve chosen to lead this issue on Voice to Parliament with an interview with Glenn Pearson.

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Journalists are trained to discover drama, a clash, a headline – the rest can wait. We rush to find conflict. And this is precisely why we’ve chosen to lead this issue on Voice to Parliament with an interview with Glenn Pearson. 

You see, the (Associate Professor) doesn’t play by other people’s rules. Instead of him rushing to push his views, our discussion begins in a traditional first nation’s way as we introduce ourselves through lineage and background. Pearson places himself in context. 

This is why interviewing Glenn Pearson about what the Voice might achieve is so revealing. As Director of First Nations Strategy and Leadership at the Telethon Kids Institute he’s directly engaged on the front-line of a significant battle. Based in Perth, Western Australia, on the traditional lands of the Nyoongar Whadjuk boodjar, the Institute was established in 1990 by Professor Fiona Stanley. 

Professor Fiona Stanley smiling at the camera in front of a red background

Professor Fiona Stanley, 2003 Australian of the Year and founding director of the Telethon Kid’s Institute [courtesy National Library of Australia]

The Institute’s role, as a multi-disciplinary research body, is to investigate the causes and prevention of major childhood diseases and disabilities. What it found was that you can’t solve health problems in isolation – they are directly related to the communities and environments where they are found. 

This is what makes Pearson’s insights so relevant. The institute has four critical areas of focus, including the brain and behaviour, chronic childhood disease, and early environment. Its other area of focus is aboriginal health because it recognises these are qualitatively, as well as quantitatively, different. 

In order to solve problems it’s sometimes necessary to focus not just on disease but also on discovering workable solutions. This requires gaining ‘buy-in’ from local communities. 

Without intending to, Ability News had discovered a key reason proponents put for the Voice. Finding solutions to First Nations’ problems requires different solutions; ones developed by First Nations peoples. 

This explains part of the reason Pearson is so keen to speak about the Voice. It’s not just because of his wide experience with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, both in Canberra with ATSIC and with the Commonwealth Department of Health. He’s also very involved with discovering practical solutions and improving the health of young Aboriginal people. He says this requires a new approach. 

“We’ve got a great deal of research experience now which have delivered powerful outcomes providing significant testimony for a new approach”, Pearson says. “This needs to be based on creating the right environments for positive, long-lasting change.” 

He says the greatest impact occur when the community has a vested interest in the project outcome

“Even complex issues that had confounded us in the past can be solved when a sustainable and positive change is implemented”, Pearson says. To achieve this recognition is important because it taps into the amazing strength and power of a community. 

“This will be like a mirror we can hold up to ourselves”, he says. “It’s like providing ramps to make buildings wheelchair-accessible. We need a hand up so we can open the door for ourselves.”

Further reading:
Glenn Pearson, OZeWAI.org February 2020 Keynote