RANZCOG reaffirms commitment to First Nation peoples following Voice to Parliament Referendum Result

Read the College’s post-referendum statement and learn more about the Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan.


The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

21 March 2024

On October 14th, 2023, Australia voted “No” in a historic referendum that asked for meaningful, not just symbolic, constitutional recognition of Australia’s First Peoples by enshrining a Voice to Parliament. This would ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the First Peoples of Australia who have experienced the irrevocable effects of colonisation, would be able to make representations to Parliament on matters relating to them.

RANZCOG supported the Uluru Statement from the Heart and supported the “Yes” vote in the referendum on a Voice to Parliament, along with the majority of medical colleges and health organisations. RANZCOG is cognisant of the health inequities that exist for First Nations people, and that evidence tells us that empowering First Nations people to be part of the process to drive improvement is more impactful, effective, and efficient. In the immediate aftermath of the unsuccessful referendum, the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who supported the Yes campaign were dismayed and disillusioned.

The Chair of the RANZCOG First Nations Women’s Health Committee, Worimi woman Dr Marilyn Clarke states: “There has been a period of grief and mourning for the loss of ‘what could have been’. I have been heartened by messages of support from the membership base, both before and since the referendum. Bearing witness to the experiences last year has only strengthened the resolve of many of my colleagues to continue to advocate to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and babies.”

Since the referendum, there has been time for reflection and contemplation. On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and RANZCOG’s recent launch of its Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), RANZCOG reaffirms its commitment to proactively examining and dismantling the barriers and structures that exist and acting to address the impacts of colonisation and systemic racism and to enable inclusivity, and positive change for First Nations peoples.

RANZCOG supports the Uluru Statement from the Heart to achieve justice, recognition, and respect for First Nations people. With the unequivocal ‘NO’ vote to the ‘Voice to Parliament’ on Saturday the 14th of October 2023, RANZCOG renewed our commitment to the Uluru statement from the Heart, to walk together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.

This sovereignty is spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

As a bi-national College, and in the wake of coalition agreements in Aotearoa New Zealand, RANZCOG also reaffirmed its commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and equity of health outcomes for Māori, recognising that racial discrimination continues to impact the First People of both Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

Advocacy First Nations health


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