The Black Bean Tree by Jirrbal artist Beau Pennefather Motlop

15 Oct 2023


Dermot O’Gorman, CEO, WWF-Australia

On the 14 October, Australia held its referendum on enshrining constitutional recognition and establishing a permanent Voice to Parliament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, a necessary step towards a reconciled nation. The outcome was disappointing, but not discouraging. 

I’d like to talk about the pathways ahead. As supporting the continued amplification and advocacy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander conservation voices must remain a focus both now and into the future.

In my role as CEO of WWF-Australia, I’m motivated by the shared challenges we face as a planet and as people. Recognising and supporting First Nations conservation voices remains vital to the journey towards regenerating nature and looking after Country. WWF-Australia acknowledges that the lands in Australia are owned by First Nations Australians. 

We continue to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices, it is our pathway towards reconciliation and meaningful collaboration. Traditional Land Management works.

The Constitution of Australia does not currently reflect what WWF-Australia acknowledges – that this nation was occupied before colonisation by people who have managed and protected Country for thousands of generations. The fact that this remains unchanged is disappointing, but it doesn’t mean the discussion of how to better include First Nations Voices is complete. We can journey towards a brighter future, together. Nature is depending on us to keep that focus, and shared hope.  

WWF-Australia’s history of partnering with Traditional Owners for conservation has proven that with a strong First Nations Voice, nature thrives. Their voices and the voices of all First Peoples matter so much, to me personally and to us as an organisation.

Improving the way we include First Nations voices

Too many times, Traditional Owners, particularly women, are excluded in discussions about nature – about their Country. There is a lack of engagement on the issues that matter to First Nations people and deeply affect their lives.

Positive change in this area remains crucial. 

Throughout WWF-Australia’s work, we hear that Traditional Owners want empowerment and they want self-determination. 

Australia must remain committed to doing better, to ensure First Peoples feel heard, especially when it comes to looking after Country. Looking forward, we can still say ‘Yes’ to change

Finding positive pathways forward from this moment is our shared responsibility. 

Through partnerships between Traditional Land Management methods and Western science, we’re achieving great outcomes. Amplifying Traditional Owners’ voices secures a strong future for our nation and the precious biodiversity surrounding us. It will facilitate reconciliation and a positive future for future generations.

Let’s keep positive conversations going to raise awareness about the significance of First Nations voices and their power to make Country stronger.