Australia and The Voice To Parliament

Australia is about to vote via referendum on whether we should amend the constitution to include a requirement for a body called ‘The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice’ which would advise parliament on matters relating to those first people groups (I will refer to those people as ATSI).

I will be voting ‘No’. What follows is some of the reasons I’m taking this position.

The ‘No’ vote argument can be summarized by:

[the proposed change] presents a real risk to our system of government.

This Voice specifically covers all areas of “Executive Government”. This means no issue is beyond its reach.

The High Court would ultimately determine its powers, not the Parliament.

It risks legal challenges, delays and dysfunctional government

These are significant concerns and it is incumbent upon the ‘Yes’ case to make a case for change that takes these concerns into consideration.

It isn’t not clear how another layer of bureaucracy will help the situation on the ground in remote aboriginal communities where the need is the greatest. If the idea is that this new body would have power to force parliament’s hand, then I think that is a dangerous situation which we want to avoid at all costs. Such a body is vulnerable to being used as a backdoor for radical political ideologues to push agendas that aren’t really about ATSI; the Voice will be used as a vehicle to push these changes.

Another sentiment I’ve heard from well-meaning ‘Yes’ supporters is along the lines of “I’m the beneficiary of generations of people living on stolen lands and so I need to give something back”. For that proportion of the Australia population who are a) white Anglo/European b) can trace their ancestry back several generations in Australia then perhaps there is some justification to that feeling of guilt that leads to such statements. However the reality is that a very large proportion of the Australian population do not fit into that criteria, and have no such feelings of guilt and so will not willingly give up rights or property for this cause! For a government to force that would be incredibly divisive and damaging. Many proponents of ‘The Voice’ have publicly and repeatedly made statements along the lines of ‘paying the rent’ and ‘giving the land back’.

IMHO, the #1 thing that can be done to lift the status of ATSI people generally, and in particular those in most need is education - ATSI kids need to go to school. In many cases this just isn’t feasible as their home life is so dysfunctional that they are not able to maintain any continuity of education. And the primary way to address that dysfunction is to break the cycle of welfare dependency. That is going to require some very tough measures. I have not heard anyone from the ‘Yes’ camp advocate for, let alone acknowledge these issues.