The past is a good teacher for those prepared to learn. As a new round of talk concerning an Aboriginal “Voice” to Canberra warms up, here are 10 fundamental rules and warnings history can tell us about the Voice even before the referendum has been called.
AXIOM 1: The failure to deliver the promised Voice is, and may well continue to be, an on-going source of resentment in the Aboriginal population. In traditional Aboriginal culture “kinship obligations” are a fundamental part of the social glue and cannot be avoided without considerable offence. In Aboriginal eyes the making of an offer, even if a conditional offer, is interpreted as both the acknowledgement of a pre-existing debt and the obligation to repay that debt in a timely manner. The failure to deliver the Voice, like the failure to meet kinship obligations, can become a source of ongoing resentment in Aboriginal communities.
Governments, creating and feeding an unrealized and maybe unrealistic expectation for a Voice with the botched non-implementation of a half-baked policy thought bubble are simply adding to the so-called “intergenerational trauma” they claim to be trying to address.
I might here suggest that the more the government tries to fill in the detail of its thought bubble, the less likely it is for the referendum to pass. The Voice has already been so over-sold to Aborigines by politicians, the media and their ilk that there likely will be trouble if the Voice referendum is unsuccessful. There is a whole world of disappointment and resentment there to be mined.
AXIOM NUMBER 2: We know that the wording of the referendum on the Voice will be couched in the vaguest possible terms in order not to frighten the voters with the full implications of what they are deciding. We also know that immediately after the decision has been made — I’m assuming here for the sake of argument that the referendum will actually pass — the decision will be handed over to left-leaning academic Constitutional lawyers who will then be invited to interpret the result and tell us what we all actually just voted for and what it all actually means in practice.
These learned friends will find that, however vague the original wording of the referendum question, the “Yes” vote will provide an implied right for Aborigines to have an effectively equal and separate House of Parliament, not to mention sovereignty, treaties and, in all probability, compensation. The more vague the referendum’s wording the easier it will be to extract implication. One can already imagine that these lawyers will invest way more of their intellectual energies finding benefit for the Voice than looking for any counter arguments that might provide succor for the general Australian taxpayer.
AXIOM 3: The first item on the Aboriginal “Voice” agenda will be to demand that the Voice has the same effective status as the other Houses of Parliament. To deny equality may well be seen by Aborigines as racist and discriminatory and a sell-out of the whole concept of the Voice — a betrayal of their legitimate expectations (see Axiom #1). The significance of the Voice has been so over-sold to Aborigines that there may well be trouble if this condition is not met. There is a whole world of disappointment and resentment to be mined here.
AXIOM 4: The second item on the agenda will be to demand that members of the Voice chamber receive parity in regard to wages and allowances with members of the House and Senate. To deny equality with respect to this may well be seen as racist, discriminatory and a sell-out of the whole Voice concept. The Voice has been so over-sold to Aborigines that there may well be trouble if this condition is not met. There is a whole world of disappointment and resentment to be mined here.
AXIOM 5: Members of the Voice, I believe, will consider it morally and perhaps legally binding on the mainstream Parliament to implement the decisions of the Voice and, just as the decisions of the mainstream Parliament are binding on all Australians, so the decisions of the Voice should also be binding on all non-Aboriginal Australians. To deny Aborigines this may be portrayed as racist, discriminatory and a sell-out of the whole concept of the Voice – a betrayal of Aborigines’ legitimate expectations. The Voice has been so over-sold to Aborigines that there may well be trouble if this condition is not met. There is a whole world of disappointment and resentment to be mined here.
AXIOM 6: It will fall on the mainstream institutions (and their subsets) to implement policies generated by the Voice, but this will likely be the cause of friction between Aborigines and those in charge of those policies on the ground. There is already precedent for believing this resentment will fall disproportionately on these institutions implementing the decisions, rather than the delegates of the Voice themselves. The policy will be considered “heavy-handed” or “culturally insensitive” etc. etc. If you want to increase the friction between mainstream institutions and Aborigines – this is a sure-fire winner of a way to do it.
AXIOM 7: The important thing to note about traditional Aboriginal culture is that the main political unit is the “clan”, not the tribe, and this has implications for laws made on their behalf by others. Each clan is an autonomous unit not beholden to any decision made by the tribe unless a definite precedent in traditional Dreamtime law can be demonstrated that makes it mandatory under the prescribed direction of ancestors. “New law” is an oxymoron in traditional Aboriginal culture.
Where there are no traditional precedents in Dreamtime law, as for example in most Australian mainstream laws, these are considered as not necessarily binding by traditionally encultured Aborigines. Therefore, it is possible that an Aborigine/Aboriginal clan would not consider himself/herself/itself to be necessarily bound by any decision made by the Voice — unless either it has clear demonstrable precedents under traditional Dreamtime law, or it is clearly to their clan’s advantage, (or, perhaps, if it is seen to be disadvantageous to a rival clan!).
Therefore, non-Aboriginal people supporting the Voice could find themselves in the ridiculous situation of being legally or morally bound by Voice decisions while traditionally encultured Aborigines may not consider themselves so constrained, all for valid cultural reasons.
AXIOM 8: The same left-leaning constitutional lawyers in of Axiom 2 will also find that the “Yes” vote implies the explicit recognition of Aboriginal languages, traditional law and a whole bunch of other stuff that only constitutional lawyers will be able to find. We already know from previously published material that these left-leaning lawyers have a private agenda to insert the recognition of many aspects of pre-colonial Aboriginal life into the Constitution – by stealth if necessary. [i] This will have major implications and flow-on effects into all aspects of law, policing, education, etc.
Without going into too much detail, consider that traditional law accepts dreams as equivalent to “eye-witness” testimony and sorcery as a major offence. [ii] As foreshadowed in Axiom 6, it is difficult to see how the mainstream courts, police and education system will be able to cope with the intrusion and implementation of traditional Aboriginal law or education into their domains. This suggests an entire new set of parallel institutions will have to be created.
AXIOM 9: We are constantly told that Aboriginal culture did not change substantially over 60,000 years. Accepting that assertion at face value for now (there is scope for nuance here), after 200+ years of policy-making in regard to Aborigines and 200+ years of policy failures, it seems that Aborigines’ traditional resistance to change is the most fundamental cultural attribute that we face. Nothing works or can work where there is no will amongst the greater bulk of traditionally-minded Aboriginal people in the communities to experiment with something new.
Let’s face it, we are all being called upon to respect traditional Aboriginal culture. Innovation is potentially a betrayal of the Dreamtime ancestors, so change is not traditionally part of Aboriginal culture. It seems to me the failure to take that aspect of culture into account has resulted in 200+ years of non-progress. Perhaps for traditionally encultured Aborigines’ welfare dependency and traditional “demand-sharing” are just too close a fit to make change seem necessary. The “least cost calculus” [iii] of traditional Aborigines’ lifestyle, which includes the practice of demand-sharing, is perfectly suited in the context of traditional living patterns but maladapted in a modern setting.
AXIOM 10: One thing that history has taught us is that after 200+ years of Aboriginal policy-making nothing ever works; things always turn out worse than they were before. What’s more is that, as each new policy option gets broader in its scope, the magnitude of the failure scales up proportionately. Thus, the last attempt at the improvement in the lives of Aboriginal people, self-determination at a community level, has resulted in the disastrous dystopia of so many Aboriginal communities that we have today.
On that basis we can predict that the latest solution dreamed up by the bien pensants, a solution now scaled up to a national level, will likely result in an even bigger national-scale catastrophe than any previous policy failures. Each failure requires an even bigger “solution” than the last. But, given the level of dysfunction that the last policy change caused, I doubt very much the Aboriginal people will be able to survive any more of these grandiose solutions. That seems to me to be the train wreck we are steaming towards at full speed.
I salute all Aborigines like Jacinta Price who are desperately trying to wrest control from the hands of the policy wonks in the engineer’s cabin, and all of those Aborigines in the carriages who are trying their best to get off before it’s too late.
[i] See Crooks, A. 2014. pp 17-18. An Aboriginal Constitution. In : Johns, G. Ed. RECOGNISE WHAT? : Arguments to acknowledge Aborigines, but not recognise Aboriginal culture or rights, in the Australian Constitution. Connor Court Publishing.)
Get a copy here … https://www.connorcourtpublishing.com.au/Recognise-What_p_28.html
[ii] This modern sponsoring of traditional Aboriginal law is like law reform promoting the Salem Witch Trials as a high point of Western jurisprudence.
[iii] Bill Stanner’s phrase. https://www.blackincbooks.com.au/books/dreaming-other-essays