by Michael Mansell

With the Prime Minister and each of the State and Territory governments backing a referendum for a ‘voice to parliament,’ along with media, any dissent is unlikely to be heard. But has anyone considered what cost Aborigines will have to pay for a referendum?

The Uluru Statement has four elements – of which the voice idea is but one. Treaty, truth-telling and a voice were all based on the assertion of Aboriginal sovereignty (the fourth element). Mr Albanese has repeatedly said that Uluru would be /implemented in full,’ but we have not heard mention of anything other than voice.

The voice proposal is an advisory body. It is not a third chamber. It cannot legislate, administer any revenue, provide no services, raise no taxes or stop parliament from passing racist laws. It can only advise.

Why go to so much trouble to change the constitution for such a weak model? It was different in Canada where the constitution reaffirmed inherent Indian rights. Here, a federal parliament which can enact native title laws, national heritage protection, set up legal aid and health services for indigenous peoples clearly has a power to set up an advisory body. So why put this advisory body to a referendum? Apparently, it is to shield the body from an ATSIC type demise where governments can dump an entity at any time. Well, on that point, entrenching a body in the constitution will make no difference at all. Section 101 of the constitution states “There shall be an Inter-State Commission…” – very clear words – but no such Commission exists, and hasn’t since the federal parliament abandoned it in 1950. A referendum cannot force parliament to do anything – it can only empower it to do something if it wants to.

Delegates at Uluru envisaged a treaty comprising a land settlement, empowerment, a financial base and a national ‘sovereign’ body to administer funds to the needs of the people. As far as sharing of power, it was thought 6 of the 76 Senate seats with full voting rights inside the parliament should be part of the treaty. Each State is allocated 12 Senate seats. One each of those could be designated for indigenous people who vote for their own people.

But a referendum for a voice to parliament will kill the Senate seats idea, no matter what the outcome. If the referendum fails, The PM is hardly likely to put up something powerful like seats in parliament when a majority of the people of Australia just knocked back a weak advisory body. Equally, no PM is likely is going to legislate seats in parliament when the people of Australia voted to put a ceiling on collective Aboriginal political rights to ‘advice only.’ And, Mr Albanese could say, it was you lot who asked for the ceiling to be entrenched in the constitution.

The outcome is permanent constitutional discrimination – people other than indigenous peoples will have a right to collectively make decisions inside and outside parliament – if they can get there. But the referendum will permanently marginalise Aboriginal people – whites will have a right to govern and we a right to be governed.