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Call for new engagement with First Nations people


Australia’s Catholic bishops have welcomed the Voice referendum on October 14 as a “blessed opportunity” for the Church and all Australians to embark on a new engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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In their 2023 Social Justice Statement Listen, Learn, Love, the Bishops stop short of telling Catholics how to vote but reiterate their support for the Uluru Statement of the Heart which calls for a Voice to Parliament, saying no one should “dismiss the recommendations lightly”.

The document was launched by Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long at Holy Family Primary School, Emerton, and livestreamed on the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s YouTube channel.

Bishop Long urged Australians to “listen with deep respect” to the First Nations people and learn about what needs to be done to improve their situations.

The theme for this year’s statement was chosen in May 2022, well before the Voice to Parliament referendum was mooted and before the timing of a vote was proposed.

While the bishops don’t suggest how people should vote, Bishop Long said “whatever the outcome of this year’s referendum, we ask the Church in Australia to make efforts to lead the way for our fellow Australians” in pursuing reconciliation.

The statement calls on members of the Church to “walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this year of great possibility”.

“We urge every Catholic and all people of goodwill to take every opportunity to join with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in dialogue about their hopes and dreams for the future and about whether the Voice proposal could help to bring about change for the better,” the statement says.

“Listen and learn from what you hear. Let love guide you in making a decision that supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to find justice.

“We hope for an end to the pain, the hurt and the injustice that has burdened the First Peoples of this land for far too long.”

The statement includes the views of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Commission.

“Australians have an opportunity to begin a new chapter this year with the referendum on the Voice to Parliament,” NATSICC says.

“We in NATSICC know there are criticisms, even from Aboriginal people, but most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people support the referendum.

“Just as the churches strongly supported the 1967 referendum, we hope that Catholics, along with other people of faith, will support the Yes campaign.

“It is a commitment to recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution and promoting healing and unity. It will be the next step in a process of empowering us to participate in the decisions that will make a difference for the better for our people.

“Australian leaders in the Parliament will hear directly from our representatives about how Government actions will affect our people and how these Government programs could work better.

“We, NATSICC, feel that the referendum is too important to fail. The consequences for our people and the whole nation would be devastating.”

While the Social Justice Statement says those who designed and led the Uluru Statement from the Heart process deserve respect and “a serious consideration of their proposals and their reasons for it”, it points out that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples oppose the Voice and the referendum.

And while many Australians, including prominent Catholics and Catholic organisations, have voiced their support for the referendum, the statement also acknowledges that some have also opposed it publicly.

“The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference will not tell Catholics or their fellow Australians how to vote in the referendum,” they said.

“Instead, we ask all Australians to seek out information on the referendum proposal, especially from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“We encourage you to participate in opportunities for dialogue about the referendum with respect for different views.

“Those who propose the referendum do not seek to divide our country, and none of us should accept divisive behaviour during the referendum campaign.”

Since the 1940s, the bishops have published annual statements that urge the Catholic community to reflect and act on social, economic and ecological issues. The statements are published as a focal point for Social Justice Sunday, held on August 27 this year.

Access the Social Justice Statement at

Some actions Catholics can take in the lead up to the referendum include:

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