The Voice Referendum - a message from AMCS President, Penelope Figgis AO

by Penelope Figgis AO, AMCS President September 28, 2023
A Message on The Voice Referendum

To AMCS Members and supporters,

I am very honoured to have recently been appointed the President of AMCS, a strong, science-based organisation with sound values and an outstanding staff whose diligent work for our oceans and marine life is supported by you all. Thank you most sincerely. You are vital to all our goals.

Currently one goal is particularly on all our minds – the vote on October 14th to recognise the First Peoples of Australia in the defining document of our nation, the Constitution, by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice on matters relating to them.

In my first message as President I would like to encourage you all to vote YES. I have been very privileged to have lived in Central Australia in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and to have worked side by side with First Nations people over a long career in conservation. This has included six years on the board of Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park following the 1985 handback of title to Traditional Owners and five years on the Board of Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife. 

I have seen the great strengths and deep culture of Indigenous communities, as well as the struggles which persist. I have also experienced the immense benefit gained by Indigenous people when their knowledge of, and commitment to, caring for land and sea country is respected and included as an essential part of the meaningful work which achieves healthy ecosystems and restores wildlife. I have strongly supported these efforts wherever I could and stand ready to again in my role with AMCS.

There are now 82 dedicated Indigenous Protected Areas which make up 50 percent of Australia’s National Reserve System, Australia’s landscapes, coasts and oceans and the life they sustain. The nation greatly benefits from strong self-determining Indigenous management organisations which are vital both for conservation outcomes and also for creating employment and economic opportunities.

The challenges of our Earth on land and sea are immense. We have transformed and, in many cases, caused great harm to the entire planet in just decades. We need both the wisdom and knowledge of Indigenous peoples who over millennia have depended on healthy ecosystems, working beside the contributions of modern science for the challenges generated by industrial development. 

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognises that “respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment”.

Just as I see Australia now seeking to regain our position as global leaders in protecting our lands and seas, that must go hand in hand with our showing international leadership in recognition of Indigenous peoples and their role in protecting our environment. 

AMCS aspires to be a positive actor for reconciliation. We act in solidarity and strive to build and nurture relationships with our First Peoples as part of our core business of ensuring thriving oceans for a healthy planet.

That is why I strongly support the AMCS commitment to a YES vote in the referendum as an essential step in our history. I believe it will be a respectful and positive step in the many vital efforts to create a nature-rich, sustainable, inclusive nation which will benefit not only the First Peoples, but all Australians.

Penelope Figgis AO

Penelope Figgis AO

President, Australian Marine Conservation Society


Header Artwork: Freeda Roberts, Saltwater Dunghutti artist from South West Rocks