At first, I was a surprised that it took our new Prime Minister little more than two months since his electoral victory to announce the first step in his policy to create an Indigenous Voice.
Given the magnitude of such a constitutional amendment, and the extent to which it would alter the political fabric of the Commonwealth, a sensible person would have called for greater reflection and public discussion in the broader Australian community, if only to consider its institutional effects and likelihood of success where so many previous Indigenous councils have failed.
This should have been the natural result of Indigenous Senator Jacinta Price’s maiden speech last week when she called the whole idea of a separate Indigenous Voice ‘pointless virtue signalling’. If her maiden speech is anything to go on, she is a woman of immense common sense, a rarity in Australian politics particularly in the era of gender quotas.
When the peoples of the separate Australian colonies decided to federate, they spent more than ten years debating the merits of different constitutional forms at public meetings. There were both federalists and anti-federalists at large in the community, each offering opposing views of post-unification Australia and various clubs were established to which the leading spokesmen of the groups were invited to speak.
The Australian people then were better educated on constitutional matters than the majority of voters today. The complexity of the issues confronting the Australian people were such that it was considered absolutely necessary for that lengthy conversation to be had to ensure that what was arrived at was naturally suited to the Australian psyche and to the Australian soul. Those fifty elected delegates who debated and drafted our Constitution in 1891-98 were exceptional men.
The first attempt was the result of a convention of appointed delegates in 1891. As good as it appeared – that can be assumed since our own High Court consults those debate when interpreting the existing Constitution – it was not good enough for the Australian people and it was another six years and another convention before a Constitution emerged that was acceptable.
I have argued previously in these columns that what is being proposed in the Indigenous Voice is a race-based corruption of what is currently a colour-blind Constitution. Indigenous people, if ‘The Voice’ is successful, will not only elect representatives to the Parliament; they alone will elect representatives to ‘The Voice’ which will have a direct communication with the government on Indigenous matters. What, pray tell, is not an Indigenous matter? Our Indigenous kin are equal Australians. They are impacted by every policy.
It is reported that Prime Minister Albanese has spoken at the Garma Indigenous festival in Eastern Arnhem Land and announced details of the three sentences with which he wants included in the Constitution, subject to their approval at a referendum. They are:
‘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 Parliament and the Executive Government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
‘The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have the power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers, and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.’
Unlike the existing Parliament, a Constitution with these sentences in it does not establish an independent Voice as the Voice will be a creature of the Commonwealth Parliament and not independent of the Commonwealth Parliament. It can, therefore, be abolished by an equally valid law, even if the Constitution provides for it. As Senator Price so eloquently put it, it is just another example of ‘pointless virtue signalling’.
We need to remember that since 1967, the Commonwealth has been looking after Aboriginal and Torris Strait Islanders’ affairs, creating statutory bodies like the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NACC), the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC), the Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC) and the ultimate replacement organisation, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
Senator Price could have cited the business of any one of these organisations, some elected, some appointed, to demonstrate the foolishness of another Indigenous Voice. It is not a voice that Indigenous people need. Instead, they need someone who knows what to do to bring people from their time-honoured, tribal political existence into the political framework of a liberal democracy.
Mr Albanese’s rush to a referendum appears to be based on a presumption of positive public sentiment for the amendment. That public sentiment, however, should not be relied on. It exists because the public recognise that our Indigenous kin have been badly treated by all governments.
Unfortunately, what Albanese is proposing might be words in the Constitution, but like the famous interstate commission, it is doomed to failure, at a somewhat greater expense.
Of greater concern is the way that this ‘representative body’ will introduce an overtly racist sentiment into our Constitution. It is a form of left-wing moral corruption identified in the old wisdom that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’.
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