Regardless of the result, the Voice referendum should provide a strong incentive for the Australian government to better develop and enact policies informed by what First Nations people believe will benefit them most.
There's an old saying: "Never let a good crisis go to waste".
We urge our parliamentary leaders not to let this occasion slip by. This milestone referendum has put the need for better policy development and service delivery on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters right at the top of the agenda.
We applaud the ACT, Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia for introducing initiatives that seek to consult with local First Nations people on issues that concern them.
This is an ideal opportunity for all tiers of government to listen more closely to what First Nations people want. There is near-unanimous agreement that things need to be done differently.
We need bipartisan support for increased consultative action to improve services and bring about true justice for our First Nations people.
The Society is putting its heart, soul and prayers into supporting the "yes" case. Some have questioned why a Christian charity (and we are by no means the only one) is "involving itself in politics."
The simple answer is that advocacy on social justice issues is enshrined in our governing document, The Rule. The purpose of our advocacy includes challenging the causes of human injustice and promoting a fairer Australian society. We do not apologise for this commitment, nor do we align ourselves with any party.
Further, the Society's position reflects that of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council, the peak advisory body to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
The Society has long-standing connections with Australia's First Nations people and is acquainted with the challenges they continue to face. Depending on the location, from 10-20 per cent of all people assisted by St Vincent de Paul Society identify as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
In the Northern Territory, this figure climbs to 95 per cent, indicating the extreme disadvantage being experienced by so many Indigenous people, not just in remote communities but in urban areas as well.
It is unacceptable that there have not been more significant improvements in the socioeconomic conditions of our First Nations peoples, despite decades of changed governments and policies. Therefore, the Society continues to work closely with Indigenous-led and faith-based organisations to improve the daily lives of the almost one million Australians of First Nations heritage.
While the upcoming referendum has been divisive it has also highlighted that the overwhelming majority of people, both "yes" or "no", support increased fairness for First Nations people and Closing the Gap.
However, we are concerned about the personal impacts of the referendum on many Australians, especially First Nations people. The Society will do everything possible to assist with healing the emotional scars resulting from the divisiveness of the campaign and the outcome of the vote, however it goes.
A "no" win would not mean an end to the gaps in mortality and morbidity rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Conversely, a "yes" vote would not automatically stop young Aboriginal kids going to jail or falling behind in their education. Closing these gaps are among the goals we must work for.
Importantly, we should move forward without rancour, and in the words of the Society's founder, Frédéric Ozanam, we must learn to defend our convictions without hating our adversaries, and love those who think differently from ourselves.
Whatever the result, this referendum is only the latest step on the long road to achieving a truly fair Australia for everyone.
- Mark Gaetani is the national president of St Vincent de Paul Society.