Why you should vote No on The Voice

I’d like to run through some of the reasons why I am opposed to The Voice as a way of clarifying things for me, and for you to understand my position.

But if you don’t read any further, it is because it is anti-democratic; undermines the power of existing indigenous voices; permanent; and on past performance, likely to be disfunctional.

It is also divisive.

The Voice has been put as a take it or leave it proposition without any consultation with the wider community. It’s almost as though Anthony Albanese doesn’t really care whether it succeeds or not.

If you genuinely wanted reconciliation you would know you have to bring the whole community with you, and there is a way to do that. Put a sentence in the preamble to the Constitution recognising prior occupation, and legislate your ATSIC 8.0. You would find support for that around similar levels to that of the 1967 change to the Constitution giving the Commonwealth power to make laws for Aborigines.

So to the longer version.

First is that we would be changing the constitution. I don’t need final details to know that this is a bad thing.

I checked how many committees are instituted in our constitution. It’s not many. There’s the parliament with its two houses, the executive council, the courts (but only specifically the High Court), and the Interstate Commission (this now seems to be defunct).

Each of these institutions has its own chapter in the Constitution, apart from the Interstate Commission. The Voice will also have its own chapter, suggesting it carries equal importance. But unlike them its membership will not be determined by a democratic process but some vague process of appointment, not by the parliament or the executive, but by 3% of the population. So we are also smuggling autocracy into the constitution, a retreat from our progress towards democracy.

Many of the committees that are basic to running modern Australia are not there. Local government, for example, the Fair Work commission, for another, and nor should they be.

Why not? Because those things that are in the constitution are not just essential but foundational. If a body is instituted in the Constitution, then it has a status above the mere machinery of government.

Nothing can be added to the constitution, or subtracted from it, unless it is decided by a majority of voters in a majority of states. Things that are in the constitution can’t be easily adapted to meet change or be metamorphosed into something else because of circumstances.

If Albaneses’ Voice doesn’t work, we will be stuck with it. A permanently embedded ATSIC. And it is likely it will not work. We’ve already had 7 organisations meant to fill a similar role – this will be the 8th  – and implicitly they have all failed or we would not need this Voice.

This also means that any ruling the High Court is asked to give will start from the premise that The Voice is more significant than most other parts of the machinery of government, and therefore needs to be taken more seriously. Whether this will ultimately amount to a parallel parliament, who knows, but it’s not a risk that ought to be taken, given the weirdness of some of the recent HC decisions.

Second is creating two different classes of Australians. We used to talk about Reconciliation, but The Voice will be the end to any prospect of that ever being achieved because it institutionalises a “them and us” situation, which is the opposite of what Reconciliation means. In 100 years, there will be a Voice to Parliament, even if we “close the gap”.

Third is the denigration and disempowerment of those Aborigines who have taken the steps to become influential voices to parliament and the executive by getting themselves elected. There are 11 of them, and they make up a larger percentage of the parliamentary population than Indigenous do of the general one. Just as we are accepting each other as equals, the opportunities that brings are being wrenched away, creating a situation where Aborigines are again treated as less capable of being involved in our democracy and community than other groups.

They are not the only voices who will be gazumped. As AIP member Bryan Phillips points out “We already have The Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, over 30 Land Councils, Council of Peaks representing 70 Aboriginal organisations, more than 2,700 Aboriginal corporations…”

The Voice will purport to represent all of these, but it can only do so by compressing their voices, and at best speaking for the average. That is on the assumption that The Voice is functional. Experience says it will most likely be dominated by a few voices who will prosecute their own agendas.

No wonder more and more Aboriginal and Islander people are coming out against The Voice.

Fourth is the further processes this will put in place. We are to have “Truth telling” and a “Treaty”. On the basis of the “Bringing Them Home” report, the truth telling will consist of convenient oral histories, slanted by the teller, and bearing little relation to the realities of colonisation. Real truth telling has been done, and is still being done, by historians. The reality of colonisation can be confronting for Europeans as well as Indigenous, but it does not need to be weaponised.

A treaty is essentially an impossibility. Not only is there no Aboriginal nation with which a treaty could be signed, because we are all Australians and members of the one nation, but there never was an Aboriginal nation, just a patchwork of tribes. This is recognised in our Native Title Agreements, which are essentially a myriad of treaties themselves, made with one tribe, but where courts have oftentimes had to choose between competing Aboriginal land claims.

What do treaties cover? Normally they are primarily territorial, and they may also contain some matters about reparations, and also restrictions on things one or the other of the parties may do, like have a standing army. We’re long past the stage where reparations are appropriate, and it is not even apparent to me that there haven’t been more benefits than costs from colonisation – how is there a gap if European colonisation didn’t bring something that was lacking in indigenous culture? So these land agreements which recognise prior use, and a continuing cultural connection are better as treaties than anything else.

Jacinta Nampijinpa Price says “We don’t need a Voice, we need ears”. I’m not sure that she’s right. We certainly don’t need another Voice, but the secret to Aboriginal fulfilment has to lie where it does for all people.

And that’s in the sorts of policies that we advocate for – the right to own property, free speech, freedom of association, civil society before government.

These are not things that exist in a significant way in Aboriginal culture, and the lack of them explains most of the misery being experienced in the areas where maybe 70,000 Aborigines still live in communities.

But they are present in the communities where the other 730,000 with Indigenous heritage work and live enjoying a standard of living and health that is indistinguishable from everyone else in contemporary Australia.

Fifth is that there is a way that can bring Australians together and give shape to the desire of Aborigines for constitutional recognition, and that is to add a short sentence or clause to the preamble. There is polling showing around 90% of Australians approve of this. You could then legislate a new ATSIC which, if it proved no better than the others, could be replaced. Or you cold leave the existing National Indigenous Australians Agency to get on with the job it is paid $2.6 billion to do.


Thanks for your support in advancing those policies, and I hope for your support in the No vote campaign.