Voting on the voice

“A vote for an advisory body is a vote to keep Aborigines down, to be advisers not decision-makers”

Michael Mansell

Michael Mansell’s Talking Point, published in The Mercury, Friday, 18 August 2023.

I am part of the Aboriginal progressive No group which opposes the referendum on the Voice because after all that has been done to Aboriginal people, and all that needs to be done, a piddly advisory body is not the answer.

The Voice proposal has been the dominant political agenda for 16 years and during that time governments have refused to discuss better ways of giving Aborigines justice.

Our hope is that support in the polls continues to fall, so that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will have to open talks about better things such as Treaty and six designated Indigenous seats in parliament.

We strongly disagree with the rhetoric of the No campaigners like Peter Dutton, Jacinta Price, Warren Mundine and Pauline Hanson.

The referendum can be opposed for the right reasons as well as racist ones.

Many of you want to support Aborigines. But is this the right way?

The Yes campaign asks you to vote with your heart. We ask you to use your head as well.

Consider this:

The Yes campaign keeps talking about the problems but never explains how an advisory body can fix that which prime ministers, state governments and peak Aboriginal groups combined, cannot.

Perhaps the right advice might make all the difference? I don’t think so. When the Productivity Commission recently pointed out the flaws in the Closing the Gap processes, Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney completely ignored the report. She said this is a matter that can wait for the advisory body.

After ATSIC was dissolved in 2004, a new First Nations Congress was installed in 2009.

For the next 10 years it advised governments on the best ways to give Aborigines justice and close the gap. Can any of you recall a single piece of advice from congress that was acted on by governments? Because I cannot.

Government use advisory bodies as flak catchers, to avoid having to do the hard things. It would be no different with a constitutionally entrenched advisory Voice. When the government does not want to act, it will blame the advisory body.

The Yes campaigners claim that a successful referendum would permanently entrench the advisory body. Not true. That is not the way constitutional law works.

Sure, the new s.129 clause will be permanent, but whether the actual advisory group exists is entirely up to parliament.

Government decides if it gets funded, not the Constitution. Take for example. Section 101 of the Constitution in very plain words states, “There shall be an Inter-State Commission…” but none exists and hasn’t since 1950. No one can take constitutional words to the High Court to force parliament to act out its powers. Constitutional provisions authorize and limit what parliament can do but cannot force parliament action. It is called ‘parliamentary supremacy’.

Anyway, Peter Dutton said he would not legislate the Voice if he won government. If the Voice was already set up, any future government can dump it, as no parliament can bind a future parliament.

The Albanese government has been told time and again that Aboriginal disadvantage is a product of domination. Without removing that domination in decision making, administering programs, policing and so on, nothing can change. A vote for an advisory body is a vote to keep Aborigines down, to be advisers not decision makers.

White people like to feel good that they supported something for Aborigines. But by what standards are we to judge our support or rejection of the referendum?

Australians love tokenism when it comes to Aborigines (all states amended their constitutions to recognise the fact that Aborigines were here first) but not a single benefit flowed to Aborigines. Basic human rights standards around the world require Australia to provide self-determination for Indigenous people, to allow for decision making, and to remove white domination. There are no human rights standards in this referendum – its underlying purpose is assimilation, it is tokenism and its aim to make white people feel warm and fuzzy voting for it.