The Voice and the Problem of Extractive Elites

The proposed indigenous Voice to Parliament has been discussed repeatedly in the pages of this publication. It is exceptionally difficult to avoid concluding that the Voice will represent a grave threat to equality under law, an indescribably lucrative payday for the professionally aggrieved, a symbolic gesture that does nothing to improve the living conditions of indigenous Australians, or some combination thereof.

We write this to expand upon a theme alluded to by Lillian Andrews in “The Voice—Be Careful What You Wish For” (Quadrant Online, October 13) in which she entertained the possibility that the Voice would “likely lead to Aboriginal people being treated as responsible for their own disadvantage” before reluctantly conceding that “in this brave new world where fairydust and rainbows cloak brutal political realities, suggesting such a thing will no doubt be derided as nothing more than racist”.

This critique appeared in a recent Quadrant.
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On the Left, dualistic oppressor-oppressed models of society (such as Marx’s model) are common. However, sometimes models of society avoid dualism by adding a third (typically a middle) class. A good example is George Orwell’s model, advanced in Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which he depicts the middle classes rather unflatteringly—as the true engine of revolution, yet motivated to become the new upper class rather than to create equality. The fact that such three-class models are uncommon on the Left may be because the Left, these days, is dominated by the middle classes. Our model proposes three classes—the first being the Colonisers, the second being the Colonised Masses, and the third being the Colonised’s Elite.

In our model, the Colonised’s Elite is a self-interested group that operates as an intermediary between the Colonisers and the Colonised Masses, and engages in rent-seeking from Colonisers and/or extracting wealth from the Colonised Masses. The frequency of this trinary class dynamic—the fact that it is so common and persistent across different cultures and time periods—implies that it is an equilibrium state. But this equilibrium is rife with problems—the Colonised’s Elite position themselves as representatives of the Colonised Masses yet are clearly terrible agents for their principals.

At the same time, the Colonisers must know (or eventually discover) that the Colonised’s Elite are self-interested actors rather than legitimate community representatives. The Colonised’s Elite is frankly corrupt and/or oppressive, however the equilibrium persists because the Colonised’s Elite use post-colonialism (and other related left-wing ideologies) as a legitimising narrative to silence dissent from the Colonised Masses and deflect (or stigmatise) criticism from the Colonisers. In brief, post-colonial ideology raises the cost of refusing to go along with the intermediary.

There are many historical variations on this model. Sometimes, this situation results in the Colonised’s Elite heading a “national liberation movement” that successfully expels or subjugates the Colonisers, paving the way for the Colonised’s Elite to govern what is now their own nation as an extractive and oppressive government that gets away with its malfeasance through telling the Colonised Masses that their misery is really the Colonisers’ fault (and, on the international stage, repeating this message). Zimbabwe is an example of this, and South Africa appears to be becoming this incrementally rather than immediately. Another, perhaps more relevant example, is that of the US First Nations people, who were granted reservations that were acknowledged as sovereign tribal lands. The contemporary state of living conditions on these reservations is both well-known and generally atrocious, in spite of the fact that tribal elites are typically awash in casino profits.

The Australian situation seems to be following that of the North American First Nations (hence why the politically correct now prefer “First Nations” over “indigenous Australians”), with an accompanying demand for sovereign land. As Keith Windschuttle’s The Breakup of Australia pointed out, constitutional recognition would serve as a springboard to the creation of a giant indigenous Australian reservation comprising 60 per cent of Australia’s land mass. Even in the event of Alice Springs becoming the Las Vegas of the southern hemisphere, the North American experience shows that prosperity is likely to be enjoyed entirely by the Colonised’s Elite, while the Colonised Masses will be left in poverty.

It must be emphasised that this atrocious situation is enabled by post-colonial ideology. This ideology allows the Colonised’s Elite to avoid any criticism. If the critic is from the same ethnic group as the Colonisers, the critic gets smeared as a colonialist and racist. If the critic is a member of the Colonised’s ethnic background, they get accused of internalised racism or of having (to borrow a term that the Chinese Communist Party uses to describe Hongkongers) “a colonised mind” (for evidence of this, take one look at how Senator Jacinta Price gets treated by most of the Australian Left). The Left positions itself as the critic of hierarchy, yet in this situation their ideology serves to legitimise and reinforce hierarchy. To put it in Orwell’s terms, the ideology allows a middle (the Colonised’s Elite) to replace the high (the Colonisers). To put it in Nietzsche’s terms, the Colonised’s Elite is a priest class that nominally promotes equality yet does so in the pursuit of its own wealth and power.

Returning to more practical matters, the degree to which the Colonised’s Elite will be able to engage in rent-seeking depends on the details and architecture of the proposed Voice. Yet as Peter Smith pointed out (Quadrant Online, July 26), it is likely that the referendum will specify no details about the proposed Voice. In theory, it could be no more than a performative exercise in pandering to woke piety, and it might be the case that it doesn’t ultimately lead to sovereign reservations for indigenous Australians. But again, the vagueness and malleability of the proposed Voice is itself the problem; as Nyunggai Warren Mundine said:

Not one person has been able to explain what a Voice to Parliament is and how it’s going to operate … If you’re going to look at changing the Constitution then you better have all your ducks in a row and you should be making sure that it is operating properly and we know what we’re getting.

From a Public Choice Theory perspective, it can be expected that the Colonised’s Elite will advocate for the kind of Voice arrangement (and ultimately the kind of legal arrangement, be it indigenous reservations or otherwise) that maximise the total rents they will be able to extract. Simply by being so vague, the referendum on the Voice opens up the floodgates to rent-seekers to optimise policy arrangements for their own interests.

Dr Andrew Russell is an economist, philosopher and musician from Brisbane. Lana Starkey is a PhD candidate in seventeenth-century literature at the University of Queensland, a freelance writer and classical musician from Brisbane

12 thoughts on “The Voice and the Problem of Extractive Elites

  • Michael says:

    The Constitutionally enshrined voice is about creating an indigenous representative body and a supporting bureaucracy that would be a de facto government for a quasi-independent indigenous nation that would have a treaty-governed relationship with the Commonwealth of Australia.

    • mrsfarley2001 says:

      And pretty awful it would be, too. I’ll be interested to see how the aftermath of the Kimberley floods goes. There is already a call for Aborigines in the remote communities to be consulted about how best to manage the rehab/reconstruction phase. Best of luck with that. Seriously.

  • Daffy says:

    I am very encouraged to read that Lana Starkey is studying seventeenth-century literature. No irony here. I’m pleased to see someone seeking intellectual riches in the intellectual activity of our (generally speaking) forebears.

  • Rebekah Meredith says:

    January 6, 2023
    I have read that the Constitution gives Parliament the power, already, to set up advisory bodies. Obviously, Parliament HAS done so; but can anyone tell me whether or not such a provision is actually in the Constitution? I have not been able to find it.

    • RobyH says:

      Section 51(xxvi) is often referred to as the race power. The government can use it now to create a Voice if they wish.

      Or alternatively the government can create an advisory body any time they wish. This can be legislation or it could be just through the machinery of government – Linda Burney and her office is supposed to be the Voice

      Race Discrimination Act 1975 embeds the UN Declaration on Racial Discrimination and set out Political rights,— the right to vote and to stand for election — on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, to take part in the Government ..at any level ..

      The Labor Gov is proposing a body in contrary to Law and contrary to the UN Declaration

  • Macspee says:

    It is commonly overlooked that the powers in the constitution are very brief so that it is up to the government to propose laws that fall under a particular heading/power and for the High Court to say whether or not it is successful.
    The so-called Voice need not have any detail which, no doubt, is why the ALP government is loathe to provide any.
    That just about anything could be done is good reason to say NO.

  • Katzenjammer says:

    In parallel with the campaign in principle for “no’, there should be another based on flawed implementation, pointing out that the government holds too many cards. Labor’s cunning proposed clauses would allow the government to select the constituents and define the scope of recommendations. Those in favour of the “Voice” should vote “no” because it doesn’t grant enough autonomy.

    Run two lines of “no” vote campaigns.

  • thomas wallace says:

    I leave aside the sheer shysterism in the wording of the Voice question in the proposed referendum. In the pea and thimble game at least you see the pea and if you buy a pig in a poke or bag, at least you know that there’s a pig of some description inside. In the Voice question all you are shown is the bag, and what’s inside is unknown and unrevealed.

    That’s bad enough but it’s nothing compared to the absolutely necessary condition to be met before the referendum is held at all. And that’s a precise legal definition of what is required for a person to claim
    aboriginality. Proven family lineage should be a major part of such a definition. Strictly speaking only a
    so-called ‘ full blood ‘ is ‘ aboriginal ‘, Everyone else has genes coming from those who ‘ invaded ‘ this country, something conveniently overlooked by many activists.

    A ‘ democratic ‘ definition might allow people with 50% aboriginal ‘ blood ‘ to call themselves aboriginals. But in a generous spirit perhaps 25% aboriginal ‘ blood ‘ might be considered sufficient to be an aborigine. That means that 75% of non-aboriginal ‘ blood ‘ is to be ignored as being irrelevant, in effect non-existent as a factor in the creation of an individual’s persona.

    Claiming aboriginality on any lesser percentage would be ludicrous, as though a trace of aboriginal
    ‘ blood ‘ magically neutralises the greatly preponderant non-aboriginal ‘ blood ‘. But that would eliminate
    those ‘ pale ‘ aborigines who hope to make lucrative careers whose starting point is a yes win in a Voice referendum. A meaningful legal definition would be the last thing such people would want. They would be ineligible when the jobs are handed out. ( One would presume. )

    I have often noted with a very wry amusement that these ‘ pale ‘ aborigines aren’t held back in their cut-throat careerism by their non-aboriginal inheritance. Powerful stuff indeed, that even when diluted to the point of invisibility it still cancels any influence from whatever hailed from the ‘ invader’s ‘ paltry civilization. A humbling thought for the rest of the world.

  • BalancedObservation says:

    Brilliantly insightful column by Greg Craven in today’s Australian on the critical nature of Peter Dutton’s politically strategic position in the Voice debate. It’s a take on the debate you’re unlikely to read elsewhere in the mainstream media.
    Among a number of other points made the article effectively advocates a conscience vote for the Coalition. However allowing a conscience vote wouldn’t abrogate the Coalition leader from taking a stand personally, for or against the Voice. People need to know what he personally stands for.
    The article does however overrate Peter Dutton’s ability. Understandable. That’s easy to do. Saying anything even very mildly positive at all about him these days overrates him. He’s going to take the Coalition to the lowest ebb in its history.
    The polls since he was elected leader are already showing people see right through his lack of ability. I’m not talking personal approval – that was always going to be low and it’s certainly eye-wateringly-low. I’m taking about the astoundingly low vote for the Coalition. He’s taken it well below the 70 year low it got at the last election in every poll since he was leader.
    So the hapless Peter Dutton is unlikely to take Greg Craven’s extremely insightful advice. He’ll just continue to dither and sit on the fence. That’s all the Coalition under his leadership seems to do these days and the polls reflect that. The people are completely awake to the moribund Dutton opposition.
    (There’s a pay wall of course so The Australian article is only available to Australian subscribers or people like me who only buy the weekend Australian because they can’t bring themselves to pay subscriptions and then have their comments regularly censored. I gave subscription a try again before the election but cancelled my subscription after only one day. Sad really because there’s a lot of good stuff in The Australian but I’ll be blowed if I’ll pay to be censored).

  • rosross says:

    No-one has explained how there could be any sort of unified voice emanating from the roughly 800,000 who register Aboriginal ancestry, most of them more Anglo-European than anything else and descended from the 350-500 different tribal/clan groups here in 1788 who were without a common language, mostly at war with each other and definitely not united.

    We know from Aboriginal communities riven by familial, tribal and clan (skin) divisions that not one of them can offer a community unified voice, so it is farcical to think that there is something commonly and equally shared by those who register Aboriginal ancestry, ranging from 100%, very few of those, to less than 1%, lots of those. If there is such ‘magic’at work then what is it and why is it failing to create one unified voice in those communities least assimilated into the modern world and still functioning on tribal lines?

    Since the vast majority of those registering Aboriginal ancestry are fully assimilated into the modern world, have been for centuries, and have the same lives or outcomes as the average Australian, then it is impossible to see what ‘voice’ they could muster which would represent both them and those who remain in largely tribal systems and are the least assimilated into the modern world and broader community. More magic perhaps or just more scamming?

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