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Leadership & Management

Pharma and medtech companies strengthen call for ‘YES’ vote while support for Voice to Parliament drops across the nation

Health Industry Hub | April 24, 2023 |

Leaders from across the pharma and medtech industries gathered at Sanofi’s Sydney office on Friday for the History is Calling – Healthcare Leaders Forum to discuss the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Voice to Parliament. The Forum was organised by Sanofi, BMS, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead, and Edwards Lifesciences who share a commitment to reconciliation.

The Healthcare Leaders Forum is timely as support for the Voice to Parliament has dropped across Australia in all six States over the last four months, especially after Liberal Party Leader Peter Dutton announced the party would formally advocate for a ‘No’ vote in the forthcoming referendum. A plurality of 46% of Australians (down 7% points since December 2022) would vote ‘Yes’ compared to 39% (up 9% points) who would vote ‘No’ and a further 15% (down 2% points) are undecided.

The Forum provided an opportunity for healthcare leaders to learn more about the Uluru Statement and the Voice to Parliament, and to discuss how they can work together to implement meaningful change.

Attendees heard from Thomas Mayo, a Kaurareg and Kalkalgal Erubamle man and Voice to Parliament referendum working group member. During the discussion, Mayo spoke about the importance of the Uluru Statement which was created as an expression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ desire for truth-telling, justice, and self-determination. He also discussed the Voice to Parliament, a proposed Indigenous advisory body that would give Indigenous Australians a direct voice in the decisions of the Australian government that impacts First Nations people.

Leaders from Sanofi, BMS, Johnson & Johnson (J&J MedTech and Janssen), Gilead, and Edwards Lifesciences discussed the implications of the upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum on First Nations health equity in Australia. Mayo shared his insights and the companies present expressed their support for the referendum outcome to be ‘yes’. They agreed that establishing a Voice to Parliament is an important step in ensuring that First Nations peoples are heard and that healthcare services are accessible and equitable for them.

Addressing myths on the Voice to Parliament

Jaime McCoy, General Manager, Gilead Sciences Australia and New Zealand, told Health Industry Hub “I am supportive of a Voice to Parliament referendum outcome that is YES, as I believe this is an important step forward in ensuring that our Indigenous peoples are heard when considering the policies and laws that disproportionately impact them. We know that First Nations Australians have far worse health outcomes, with a burden of disease that is more than two times non indigenous Australians. It is imperative that we work together to change this, and address societal barriers that impact access to healthcare and determinates of disease.”

Sue Martin, Managing Director, J&J Medtech Australia & New Zealand, commented “I firmly believe it is our responsibility to be as educated as possible on the potential impacts of the outcome of the referendum so that each of us can make an informed decision.

“Over the coming months across Johnson & Johnson MedTech and Janssen we will be encouraging our staff, customers and other stakeholders to learn about the significant opportunity for change that this historic referendum presents.”

Dirk Otto, General Manager Boehringer Ingelheim Australia and New Zealand said taking the time to hear directly from First Nation’s voices like Thomas Mayo was an incredible opportunity.

He said “Of all the industry leaders in the room, my family probably has the shortest history in Australia – less than a year. For a new arrival like me, this has been an extremely valuable experience to listen and learn about the Uluru Statement from the Heart.”

BMS Australia’s Managing Director, Leah Goodman, believes it is important to create respectful relationships and conversations in order to move forward with reconciliation.

“To be a part of history, you have to be part of the conversation. We will continue to learn more about the Voice to Parliament over the coming months and seek to understand how it will address the significant health gaps we know exist for First Nations peoples,” she told Health Industry Hub.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was created in 2017, calls for a First Nations Voice to be established in the Australian Constitution and for a Makarrata Commission to be formed to supervise a process of agreement-making and truth-telling between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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