Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following story contains an image of a deceased person.

In 1960, Kevin Coombs competed as the first Indigenous athlete to represent Australia in the Paralympics. It would be another two years before Kevin had the right to vote, and seven years before he was counted as an Australian citizen.

On top of his impressive sporting career, Kevin is a Wotjobaluk Elder and has fought tirelessly to improve the rights and life outcomes of First Nations peoples, and expand the accessibility and profile of adaptive sports in Victoria.

AQA is privileged to have had a long relationship with Kevin, and count him as an important elder in our community.

In mid-October, Australians will be voting on whether we change the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament

We wanted to know what Kevin thought about it, so we invited him into the office to have a chat. He graciously agreed. Below are his answers to our key questions. 

After defying the odds by surviving an SCI in the mid 20th century, Kevin went on defying expectations by being the first Indigenous Australian to compete in the Paralympics, in Rome in 1960.

Why is there a need for the Voice?

For 200+ years, our communities have been forced by governments to accept policies, legislation and laws that have created harm. These laws removed us from our traditional lands, and forcibly removed us from our families. We were and presently remain voiceless, ignored and dictated to about what is best for us. UNTIL NOW!

The Voice to Parliament will give Aboriginal communities a say in decisions that affect their lives and communities. A Voice to Parliament would mean constitutional recognition and representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This would provide a platform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to express their views and inform policy and legal decisions. 

Kevin gifted AQA with his signed YES shirt, now hanging proudly on the office wall.

What are the benefits if the referendum is successful? 

The benefits of a successful referendum is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at the table, advising government of the ongoing issues and failing policies that are affecting their communities. The benefit of a successful referendum is the opportunity to change the status quo, so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can finally be heard on issues that directly affect them, their families and communities.

What happens if the referendum is not successful?

The status quo remains the same. Policies, legislation and laws will be forced onto us without community consultations, continued disadvantages, forced removal of our children into out-of-home care, the high ratios of Aboriginal incarceration numbers, and the high ratios of health issues will continue to rise exponentially. Most importantly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will continue to be unrecognised as the First People in their own Country.

  • September 22, 2023

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