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Avoid temptations of triumphalism or defeatism after referendum: Archbishop Fisher

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP celebrated Mass for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday and the start of NAIDOC Week at The Reconciliation Church in Phillip Bay on 2 July 2023. Photo: Supplied
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community at the Reconciliation Church, Phillip Bay, on 2 July 2023 for the start of NAIDOC Week. Photo: Supplied

Following the defeat of the Voice to Parliament referendum, Australians must “avoid the temptations of both triumphalism and defeatism” and recommit to coming together in genuine charity, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has said.

In a statement from Rome, where he is participating in the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Fisher said, “The outcome of the referendum has understandably left many people wondering ‘what now’ for relations with Indigenous Australians.”

“My sincere hope is that the defeat of this particular proposal—a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament—is not understood as a rejection of the ongoing process of reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

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“Whatever your vote, we must avoid the temptations of both triumphalism and defeatism and recognise that the task of ensuring better outcomes for Indigenous people can only be advanced if we come together as Australians in genuine charity and recommit ourselves to closing the gap of disadvantage that Indigenous Australians face.

“The obligation on us all, and particularly Catholics informed by the Gospel and the social teaching of the Church, is to affirm and uphold the dignity of every human person; to seek unity and reconciliation in circumstances where division and conflict are present; and to work together for the flourishing of all people regardless of race, belief or background.”

The proposal to establish a First Nations Voice to Parliament was defeated on 14 October, with 60.3 per cent of the votes cast for No at the time of publication.

Bishop Gauci: Referendum defeat is “time for a new beginning”

Bishop Charles Gauci of Darwin, chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, said the end of the Voice campaign should be seen as a “time for a new beginning.”

“As I travel through the Northern Territory and beyond, I meet people from all walks of life who recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples—the traditional custodians
of our lands and waters for tens of thousands of years— struggle with poor outcomes in health, education, employment and a range of other areas,” Bishop Gauci wrote in a statement after the result.

“Australians know those poor outcomes are not good enough in the nation of the alleged ‘Fair go.’

“A majority of Australians did not see the Voice as the way to address those disparities. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something. It doesn’t mean we accept the status quo.”

“After such a vote, there can be a tendency to attribute bad motives to people with whom we disagree, to move to blame and recrimination, to revel in victory or despair in defeat.

“Instead, we suggest that well-intentioned people looking at the same material can come to different conclusions.

“But the overwhelming consensus coming out of the debate is that more should be done to address the injustice experienced by so many First Nations people.”

The church, despite blemishes in our history, has been a “driver of positive change,” he wrote.

“At this moment in our history, it is time for the church and its ministries to redouble our efforts to close the gap—not as a slogan, but as a commitment.”

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