There’s only one thing to talk about in this Saturday’s blog – the Voice.
Today the Prime Minister revealed the question he will put to the Australian people in a referendum later this year.
“A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
Do you approve this proposed alteration?”
The Prime Minister’s proposed amendments to the Constitution are:
“Chapter IX Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:
There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.”
Over the last several months I’ve read many, many articles in the media about the Voice, both for and against. I have no problem in recognizing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the first peoples of Australia. Why deny an indisputable fact?
But I’m not at all comfortable with the idea of a separate body enshrined in the constitution to advise on matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
The members of the Voice will be elected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“The Australian Government defines Indigenous Australians as people who: are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent; identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin; and are accepted as such in the communities in which they live or have lived.
In most data collections, a person is considered to be Indigenous if they identified themselves, or were identified by another household member, as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin. For a few data collections, information on acceptance of a person as being Indigenous by an Indigenous community may also be required.” [source]
So, if you claim to be indigenous and people accept your claim, you’re indigenous.
On the basis of that definition, does this mean that an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander effectively has two votes to parliament – one being the same as me, the other being for the Voice? That’s inherently racist and divisive.
The ‘Yes’ vote is based upon the concept that we accept the general principle of a Voice and not to worry our little heads over the precise way it will be implemented. That sounds a bit like lending somebody money without a contract. “Trust me, everything will be fine.” It’s how con artists operate.
Australia had a go at a similarly undefined proposal in 1999 when we were asked to vote on whether we wanted to become a republic. I voted ‘yes’ back then, which in hindsight was stupid because there was no understanding/agreement on how the Australian President would be elected. An older, wiser me would have voted no. Not that I disagree with the principle, just that there is no agreed way to make it happen.
And that’s how I’ll be voting at this referendum. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already have a vote. Just like the rest of us. There are eleven indigenous MPs in Federal Parliament. They already have a voice.
Here’s a not necessarily exhaustive list of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bodies which already provide a Voice. How much good are they doing?
- Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service 14 Offices in Queensland
- Aboriginal Legal Service 23 Offices in NSW and ACT
- Australian Indigenous Foundation
- Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)
- Australian Indigenous Minority Supplier Council
- Aboriginal Maternal and Infant Health Service
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework
- Assembly of First Nations
- Australian Indigenous Economic Policy Research (CAEPR)
- Closing The Gap Clearinghouse
- Conciliation and Arbitration Commission
- Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health
- Cape York Institute
- FaHCSIA; Department of Families, Housing, Community and Indigenous Affairs
- FCAA; Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines
- FCAATSI; Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders
- Healing Foundation
- Indigenous Advisory Council
- Indigenous Advancement Strategy
- Indigenous Community Governance Project
- Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Programme
- Indigenous Land Corporation
- Kapululangu Aboriginal Women’s Association
- Koori Business Network
- Kimberley Indigenous Management Support Service
- Koori Maternity Services
- Larrakia Development Corporation
- Ministerial Council for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs
- National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)
- National Indigenous Australians Agency
- National Indigenous Times
- New South Wales Coalition of Aboriginal Peak Organisations (COAPA)
- NAIDOC; National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee
- North Coast Aboriginal Corporation for Community Health
- National Centre of Indigenous Excellence
- NITV; National Indigenous Television
- NNTT; National Native Title Tribunal
- Native Welfare Council
- Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination
- Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations
- Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak (QATSICPP)
- Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APO NT)
- Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
- SNAICC Resource Clearinghouse
- South Australian Aboriginal Advisory Council
- The Koori Mail
- The Lowitja Institute
- The Indigenous Affairs Group
- The National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA)
- The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA)
- Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey
- Working Group on Indigenous Reform
There are undoubtedly others.
Maybe it’s time to do a detailed audit of the billions spent annually on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs, and the millions paid out each year to traditional owners by mining companies. In particular, why hasn’t all that money made a difference to indigenous health, poverty, alcoholism, domestic violence, substance abuse, crime, and incarceration?
Why is this Voice going to do any better than the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission which was established in 1989 by the Hawke government?
“ATSIC too, involved the “first peoples” in the processes of government. It had an elected arm and a legislative mandate and was the authoritative voice to government on Aboriginal policy matters. It was abandoned in 2005 after numerous scandals and corruption allegations.” Source is a great article behind a pay wall.
Acknowledge the original inhabitants of Australia in the constitution by all means – but maybe the best way to combat inequality is just to accept that everyone is equal.