The Hollow, Illogical Case for a Voice

Professor Greg Craven of the Catholic University has a piece in the Weekend Australian (paywalled) posing ten questions for opponents of the Voice. I will attempt to answer those questions.  What follows is the text of Professor Craven’s article with my responses indented after each question.

Referendums are much like marriages. Sooner or later, romance is confronted by reality.

In the lead-up to a referendum campaign, both sides revel in their own rhetoric, the wickedness of their opponents and the certainty of victory. Then the grinding slog of the campaign begins.

We have now fully entered the campaign phase over an Indigenous voice.

The fondest hopes of both sides have evaporated. On the Yes side – my side – the notion there would not be an organised No case, that it would all be a romp in the park, has collapsed. This will be as much a fight as any other referendum.

On the No side, the idea this referendum might be strangled before birth, that it could be argued away before even being put, is over. There really will be a titanic clash of constitutional wills.

I don’t believe the more informed opponents of this proposal wanted the referendum strangled at birth.  Most want the referendum to go ahead so we can, hopefully, put this issue to rest.  Unfortunately, we know that if the proposal gets up, its proponents will not regard the issue as settled. We will then move on to demands for treaties, ‘truth telling’, compensation and Aboriginal sovereignty.  Opponents will likely accept the result. But if the proposal fails, the activists will not accept the will of the people, so expect them to double down on their claims that Australia is a racist country.  So, either way, the issue will not be settled.

Being positive, this clash could at least be civilised. There will be good people on both sides. Debate certainly can be sharp but it should not be jagged.

More challenging, this is a debate that matters profoundly, not a tiff about my symbolic republic. Particularly for Indigenous Australians, someone could get seriously hurt by both campaign and outcome.

Oddly, few people realise there is not really a No side in any referendum. Rather, there are two Yes sides for different constitutional visions. In this case, one is for constitutional recognition, the other for a Constitution free of Indigenous emphasis.

Critically, each group bears the same onus of proof in demonstrating their proposal is cogent, compelling and will not harm the Australian polity. There is no such thing as “Just vote No”. You vote Yes to one or the other.

On this I agree with Professor Craven. We often hear the simplistic refrain ‘if you don’t understand it, don’t vote for it’.  That is not a valid basis to vote No.  If you don’t understand it, then you should find out about it. 

It is not enough that this referendum should fail.  In the interests of good governance and a united Australia, it should fail convincingly.  And it should do so on the basis of a thorough understanding by all voters of its inherent dangers and weaknesses.  It should neither succeed nor fail on the basis of emotional feel-good rhetoric on the one hand, or intuitive distrust on the other.

If its supporters believe it failed because people did not understand the detail, they will simply try again later, and this issue will remain a festering sore in our public discourse for years to come.  It must fail on principle, not detail.

So, it is entirely reasonable for each side to ask genuine questions of the other.

This is not insult but engagement. Until now, it has been those against constitutional amendment doing the interrogating.

But here are 10 fair questions for these opponents.

1/ Most basic, why do you think the subject of a voice is not important enough to be in the Constitution? What is your principled criterion for any inclusion? If it is indeed one of basic importance – like the founding fathers – how does the position of Indigenous people not pass the test? If you are worried about repealing the voice, that is always open to the Australian people through further referendum.

The Constitution says nothing about our history, our values or our aspirations.  It says nothing about our rights as individuals.  It says nothing about the ‘founding fathers’. It is, in fact, a very prosaic document. It is not like the American Declaration of Independence. It does not hold any truths to be self-evident. 

It is not, as is often claimed, the ‘birth certificate’ of our nation.  If you are looking for a slick but specious analogy, a better choice would be the ‘pre-nuptial agreement’ of our nation.  But, in fact, it is neither of those things.

Firstly, our Constitution is a power-sharing agreement between the Commonwealth and the states and, secondly, it is an operating manual for our Parliament.  Nothing more.  It is, in effect, a contract – one which is subject to the jurisdiction of the High Court.  As a contract, it is not an appropriate vehicle for emotional or feel-good rhetoric. That would introduce ambiguities that can, and probably will, have unintended consequences.

Who we are as a nation – our values and aspirations – is reflected in the democratic traditions and institutions we inherited from Great Britain.   And, more importantly, in our legislation, which has made us one of the most diverse, tolerant and generous nations on Earth.  It is in our legislation that we must look to enrich all the people, to alleviate disadvantage, to unite us and to recognize past injustices. 

2/ Why is it always wrong to have provisions about race in a constitution? Our own Constitution has always had race provisions. Why have you not demanded their repeal? How do you explain away race aspects of other constitutional settlements, including those of great functioning democracies such as the UK, the US and Canada?

The existing race provision (Section 51 (xvii) was included to advantage or advance Aboriginal people.  It was not intended to give them rights or, more importantly, status that other Australians do not possess.  In 1967, the vast majority of the Australian people believed that eventually this provision would become moribund because, if it were effective, Aborigines would all enjoy the same lifestyle as the rest of us.  If Aboriginal people feel Section 51 (xvii) is now an unwelcome imposition that, in justice, mandates they should have a say in any legislation enacted under it, why would they not lobby for its repeal and have done with it?

3/ Is the definition of “Indigenous person” really such a problem? Why will it matter? The voice amendment would confer no new rights of benefits. If you really are worried, why not have a suitable definition in the supporting legislation?

This is a major problem because even Aboriginal people themselves cannot agree on it.  There is a de facto definition now – a person must be of Aboriginal descent, must identify as Aboriginal and be accepted as such by his community.  The most fundamental of these three elements – without which the other two are meaningless – ‘Aboriginal descent’ is never tested.  Aboriginal academics themselves, such as historian Victoria Grieve-Williams recognize the problem this has already caused and has allowed grifters such as fauxborigine charlatan ‘Professor’ Bruce Pascoe to flourish.  If this is a problem now, how more problematic will it be when there are, presumably well remunerated, seats to fill in a network of alternative parliaments?

4/ Indeed, why are we talking only about the constitutional amendment but not the surrounding legislation? The legislation will be completely under the control of parliament, and this is where multiple guarantees and failsafes could be placed. These could cover composition of the body, its powers, procedures and priorities, just as examples.

A provision in the Constitution should be not over-prescriptive – Parliament should be able to fine tune it over time.  But neither should it provide carte blanche to the Parliament.  The multiple guarantees and failsafes, if they are in the legislation, can be changed by further legislation at any time.  Guarantees, including a failsafe definition of who is an Aborigine, must be in the Constitution itself.

5/ How could the Voice ever actually be a third chamber of parliament? It cannot initiate, amend, reject or pass laws. It may well be influential, but that is a different thing. We would want that. Many bodies are influential: lobby groups, parliamentary committees, business, unions and so forth. None dictates.

As Voice supporter Chris Kenny puts it, “The recommendations of an Indigenous voice would carry great political weight, of course, but no constitutional power.” Proponents of the Voice set great store by this assertion, but it is by no means certain that this would continue to be the case. Australia has endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 19 of which states:

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

The Greens policy is that this should be enacted into legislation.  If that happened, imagine what the High Court could do with that.

And carrying ‘great political weight’ can be a two-edged sword, given the propensity for modern governments to succumb to woke populism, irrespective of the consequences.  What chance a Labor/Greens government (or even a Liberal one for that matter) accepting flawed advice rather than provoke a fight with the vocal activist class, given special Constitutional status and brandishing the provisions of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?  Odds on, I would think.

6/ Why does the election of Indigenous members of parliament invalidate the need for a Voice? Those members do not compose an internal Indigenous voice because they are not elected to represent only Indigenous people. On the contrary, they must represent all their constituents. Anything else would be a basic breach of representative democracy.

In response to this I quote no less an authority than Professor Craven himself from question five: “Many bodies are influential: lobby groups, parliamentary committees, business, unions and so forth.”

Most legislation relating to Aborigines is what I call ‘enhancing legislation’, which dispenses grants, protects Aboriginal culture and heritage and promotes education and advancement.  No Aborigine is compelled to accept any of this largesse if they find it inadequate or wrongly targeted.  But they are free to lobby to have it changed or expanded.  They can do this through their Parliamentary representatives or through their own activist groups.  In exactly the same way that, for example, farmers have a say in the formulation of laws that affect them via the National Farmers Federation.

7/ Why would the High Court run amok with an Indigenous voice? The constitutional provisions would be mechanical, not thematic. They would be very like the 1967 referendum insertions, which in 50 years have never excited the court. What would be dangerous in the Constitution are broad, sweeping values. This is where amending the preamble is dangerous. How can this be advanced as an alternative to recognition?

‘Why would the High Court run amok with an indigenous voice?’  Because they can. Think Commonwealth vs Love and Thoms for a start.

8/ Why must every Aboriginal body end up as a repetition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission? We have absorbed ATSIC’s painful lessons. This is where legislation can deal comprehensively with qualification, membership, terms, accountability and removal. Let’s talk.

We already have evidence that this type of representation has failed in the past.  If we have really learned our ATSIC lesson, let’s legislate it first to make sure before embedding it in the Constitution.

9/ Why are we so sure a Voice would make no difference “on the ground”? On the face of it, a body specially centred on Indigenous issues should at least focus attention. But again, what about the legislation? This is where practical inquiries, processes and outcomes can be mandated for the voice. This is a better debate than a battle of cliches.

When seeking to amend the Constitution, we must take into account unintended or unforeseen consequences.  We don’t need to be ‘sure’ about these consequences, just aware they may happen and gauge whether the putative benefit outweighs these risks.  ATSIC suggests not, in this case.

10/ Finally, what will be the consequences if the referendum fails? This really is a question for each of the two Yes cases. The bottom line is that Indigenous souls would be broken. This is not an argument to pass a bad proposal. But those putting up a plan bear a huge responsibility in bringing it to a referendum. Those opposing it carry an at least equal responsibility in seeking to defeat it.

This referendum, if it is successful, will be divisive.   But even by virtue of the fact that it is being put, it is also divisive.  Referenda are notoriously difficult to achieve in Australia.  In 120 years, only 8 of 44 referenda have succeeded.  The last significant proposed change – the so-called Australian Republic – bolstered by apparent widespread support, failed spectacularly. It’s supporters, although disappointed, accepted the result and quietly got on with working towards a new attempt, as is their right.

There is every chance this one will also fail.   But this failure will not be accepted with quiet resignation and a determination to simply legislate the Voice as a consolation prize.  It will be attended by shrieks of racism, protests and possibly violence. That would be a regrettable situation, but preventing such an outcome would be a very flimsy reason to simply go with the flow and vote Yes. 

On the other hand, we often hear the simplistic refrain ‘if you don’t understand it, don’t vote for it’.  That is not a valid basis to vote No.  If you don’t understand it, then you should find out about it.  That is the purpose of a No Case. To provide voters the information you need to make an informed decision and to be able to defend it.

I believe it is not enough that this referendum should fail.  In the interests of good governance and a united Australia, it should fail convincingly.  And it should do so on the basis of a thorough understanding by all voters of its inherent dangers and weaknesses.  It should neither succeed nor fail on the basis of emotional feel-good rhetoric on the one hand, or intuitive distrust on the other.

If its supporters believe it failed because people did not understand the detail, they will simply try again later, and this issue will remain a festering sore in our public discourse for years to come.  It must fail on principle, not detail.

The bottom line is that opponents of the voice face as many – or more – pointed questions as those favouring constitutional recognition. It would be good if we could engage around some convincing answers.

67 thoughts on “The Hollow, Illogical Case for a Voice

  • Adelagado says:

    Why won’t the proponents of ‘The Voice’ talk about trialling it for, say, 5 years before we vote on it? Is it because they want us inescapably ensnared before we realise the full extent of the disaster we have self inflicted upon ourselves?

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Adelagado, Yes.

  • Michael says:

    There is no way I will support enshrining in the Constitution special privileges for a group of Australians defined by ancestry. No way. No!

    It is wrong on fundamental principles and it is a political delusion to think it could be successful at a referendum.

    Australian is Australian!

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    I commented on Craven’s article and, surprisingly given my recent form, it was published:
    “Backatcha, Mr Craven. Before any sensible discussion of this issue can take place, the onus is on the proponents to provide precisely detailed specifications of the “Voice” that they propose. That they have failed to do so to date is either because they have no idea of what they want to achieve, or because they are perfectly aware that what they actually want will be repugnant to the majority of voters. So, they persist with the nonsensical idea of slipping a nebulous proposal – a blank cheque of an unspecified “Voice” – past the voters.
    No sane person would buy a new car sight unseen. The issues here are far more important and complex.
    Tell us what you really want, Mr Craven. Bluntly stated, put up or shut up.”

  • alexblok says:

    This is a crucial discussion that Quadrant has initiated. But there’s a problem here, and I feel it begins with POB’s initial concession to Craven, that this is a “Yes vs Yes” vote. It’s not. For example, I’m voting No: as in, do NOT change the Constitution.
    Don’t he taken in by Craven’s “we have now fully entered the campaign phase”. We haven’t, not yet. It still has to be debated etc in Parliament; use the time until it’s actually declared. Start the No vote now – as in: “No vote!”
    Keep it simple. As POB says, answering Q10, just by being put, the vote is divisive. “Souls will be broken” either way, because the Voice is inherently racist. That’s a good argument. Why not start with it – right now, before the feel-good momentum builds to the accomplished fact?

    • pmprociv says:

      Craven should realise that lots of souls will be broken, mine included, if the Yes vote gets up, for it will be initiation of institutionalised racism in Australia, a permanent division between the growing numbers who claim special ancestry (the “untouchables”) and the remainder who don’t. It beggars belief that a constitutional lawyer fails to see this risk — and is a poor reflection on how divorced some academics can be from the real world.

      Good to see that Peter O’Brien mentions Pascoe, but far more should be made of this. A critical question should be posed to the public: does Bruce Pascoe qualify to vote for The Voice and/or is he eligible to stand as a candidate? That should get people thinking.

  • March says:

    Aboriginal groups have more than enough representation already. Already the voices of highly privileged Inner City Aboriginals subsidised by tax payers are given priority over Aboriginal voices from the bush and the voices of other Australians. This group has as much connection to this country as a bunch of tourists from Tokyo. This is the group that will benefit most from having a “voice” enshrined in our constitution to the detriment of all us but most of all those Aboriginal people living in remote communities.

    • DougD says:

      March – From the report by Profs Langton and Calma on the design of the Voice [ which Langton with just a touch of arrogance said of those calling for more details mustn’t have read because “I do wonder if some of them can read and write’] : “the final proposal for a National Voice is a 24-member model including 5 members representing remote regions, and one member representing the significant number of Torres Strait Islanders living on the mainland”. Does that proposal satisfy your concerns that highly privileged Inner City Aboriginals subsidised by tax payers are given priority over Aboriginal voices from remote communities? How many of the other 18 votes do you think the inner city activists will control?

  • RobyH says:

    As I think you agree Peter we should remove race clause in the Constitution – no Laws for any race.

    Legislation should only be needs based. Specifically Law should only be based on need. Passing a Law to benefit 750,000 people claiming to be Aboriginal provides benefits to vast numbers of people who should not the entitled to it.

    Look to the Racial Discrimination Act … any special measure must be temporary and then terminated. A Voice outside the constitution could only ever be temporary and this is why they want it to change.

    • NarelleG says:


      Included in ads for positions vacant only aborigines can applyI ‘under the antidiscrimiation act section 14.’

      I can never figure that one out.

      Yes – I believe section Section 51 (xviii) should go.
      That was the thinking in 1967 to bring the States and Territtories in line under the Commonwealth for decisions for the aboriginal race.
      “The existing race provision (Section 51 (xvii) was included to advantage or advance Aboriginal people. It was not intended to give them rights or, more importantly, status that other Australians do not possess. “

  • Daffy says:

    I’m not as sure as Peter that this referendum is unlikely to get up. We’ve voted for media driven arrant nonsense on energy infrastructure, subsidies to the wealthy for their moralised fantasies, governments that go delirious with power over a relatively innocuous virus, I think the electorate might go for this because…what could go wrong? Merely a ‘voice’, merely ‘advice to parliament’. And this is how it will be campaigned. The devil is not just in the detail but starts with the generalities. The current rhetoric has been merely about ambitions. Nothing concrete at all.
    You can be sure that every piece of legislation that that has a dollar or power attached to it will be trotted up to the High Court for more of either for Aborigines, however they end up being defined.
    But if we’re talking definition, here’s my stab at it: a person who extending to three prior generations can demonstrate the preponderance of Aboriginal forebears. An objective test is the only one that would be convincing and just.

  • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

    Many people ignore the fact that the constitution represents all of us as does the law of the land cover us, and under that constitution and law of the land we are all equal. We all of us have members of Parliament both State and Federal so why change it for a group of people who have an extremely loose way of declaring that they are a special race (aboriginal) for Professor Pascoe springs to mind as an example of being an aboriginal. Why are eminent people as is our present P M urging us to vote “YES” in a referendum when we do not know what the privileges and limitations of a yes vote will have in store for us, we people who pay the taxes that supported the grand failure that was ATSIC and many other schemes. One extremely good reason for voting “NO” is the way the ABC, SBS, and NITV presently air programs about supposed atrocities committed by the early settlers against aboriginals to convince people with another rabbit proof fence or dark emu, mostly figments of imagination.

  • Peter OBrien says:


    I think statistically it is unlikely to get up but I’m my no means complacent about it. It has the advantage of historical precedent in that the most convincing referendum win was in 1967 and you can bet the activists will trade on that. Also, we live in much more woke times than in 1967.
    It will get up if there’s no cogent No Case and right now the logical proponents of that case (the Coalition) are MIA.
    My main point is that it should not only fail but fail convincingly.

  • Adelagado says:

    Peter, Daffy.
    I too fear that the Yes vote already has a very high chance of winning. The referendum question might be “Do you want to enshrine The Voice or not?”, but a huge number of voters are going to read this as “Should we be nicer to aborigines or not?”

  • DougD says:

    Was the greed and nepotism that destroyed ATSIC just due to character flaws in those who ran it? The same problems have emerged in indigenous-controlled corporations in the Pilbara, Kakadu and South Australia where a single powerful family uses the corporation’s mining and government payments for the benefit of clan members and to the exclusion of other Aborigines. Could this problem be due not to simple greed but instead, reflect the traditional culture of nomadic people of demand-sharing? Craven’s claim that “We have absorbed ATSIC’s painful lessons” may be very wide of the mark. If we are to have The Voice, the precautionary principle could be invoked to deny it constitutional entrenchment and leave it to ordinary legislation that can be repealed by parliament if it turns out to be another corrupt gravy train for the few. Craven’s claim that “If you are worried about repealing the voice, that is always open to the Australian people through further referendum” is more than a little cynical – as if passing a constitutional amendment is a common straight-forward occurrence.

    • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

      They always self destruct without fail and as you say a very few cunning people benefited from those schemes as people do anywhere no matter what their colour or creed. Those of us who grew up among them or worked among them know that a great many simply work the system because they can due to government handouts from taxpayers money. Let’s face it they are no worse than the dole bludgers who use the system but we must take solace in the fact that dole bludgers are not trying to sway the parliament of our country to divide it.

  • Paul W says:

    You are too kind, Peter O’Brien! All of Craven’s questions were craven deceptions. The case for constitutional change is always on the proponents and never on anyone else.

    Q1: why do I think that ‘the Voice’ is not important enough to be in the Constitution?
    A1: Irrelevant. Because there is no evidence to suggest that it is.
    Q2: Why is it always wrong to have provisions about race in a constitution?
    A2: Irrelevant.
    Q3: Is the definition of “Indigenous person” really such a problem? Why will it matter?
    A3: Irrelevant. Because you want a special body for a particular group of people to be written into the Constitution but you can’t even tell me who that group includes. This is fraud.
    Q4: Indeed, why are we talking only about the constitutional amendment but not the surrounding legislation?
    A4: Irrelevant. Because there is no such legislation.
    Q5: How could the Voice ever actually be a third chamber of parliament? It cannot initiate, amend, reject or pass laws.
    A5: Irrelevant. This is a strawman definition of parliament. You are creating a Constitutionally-enshrined political organisation whose only purpose is to influence the government, review policies, comment on legislation, and advocate for the ideas of its members. This is a pseudo-parliament.
    Q6: Why does the election of Indigenous members of parliament invalidate the need for a Voice?
    A6: Irrelevant. There is no such need and because no-one is entitled to more political representation than anyone else.
    Q7: Why would the High Court run amok with an Indigenous voice?
    A7: Irrelevant. Because courts often have a very different interpretation of affairs.
    Q8: Why must every Aboriginal body end up as a repetition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission?
    A8: You tell me.
    Q9: Why are we so sure a Voice would make no difference “on the ground”?
    A9: Irrelevant. Because there is no evidence otherwise.
    Q10: Finally, what will be the consequences if the referendum fails? This really is a question for each of the two Yes cases. The bottom line is that Indigenous souls would be broken. This is not an argument to pass a bad proposal. But those putting up a plan bear a huge responsibility in bringing it to a referendum. Those opposing it carry an at least equal responsibility in seeking to defeat it.
    A10: Quoted in full because it illustrates the intellectual deficiency of this idiotic proposal. This is emotional blackmail. There is absolutely no need to change the Constitution.

    There is a yes case to change the Constitution, and a no vote for those who are not convinced. I do not need a reason to vote no. Those who want the change must convince me and not the other way around. They can’t do so because there is no case.

  • 27hugo27 says:

    I too fear the yes vote will carry, based on the collective madness adhered to for covert 19.a And a question for Prof Craven : given that AFL careers and reputations are thrown under the bus for Spurious reasons on all things indigenous, Mcguire, Rendell, Walker, the 13 y/o girl detained in the Goodes dummy spit, and now coaching legend Clarkson and Fagan, will the yes vote improve the situation or make it fsr worse for transgressors? And will aboriginal behaviour improve in society, as right now in Adelaide a group of juvenile Aboriginals calling themselves “Young, black and ruthless” are wreaking havoc on the roads, proud to be stealing expensive cars for joy riding and police chases, full of hate (courtesy of the ABC, greens, msm and the likes of Craven) thumbing their noses at us full in the knowledge they will only get a slap on the wrist? I think not. Things will get much worse and most of us know it.

  • GG says:

    Here’s a Constitutional amendment we cal all agree on:

    “No benefit, legal status nor power can be conferred upon any Australian on the basis of their identified, claimed or proven race.”

    There. Done.

  • IainC says:

    Proposed preamble to Constitution.
    1. This Constitution recognises that:
    (1) This continent was first settled in time immemorial by Indigenous tribes who developed and maintained their unique cultures for thousands of years;
    (2) The land was settled and forged into a modern nation-state by British and Celtic settlers, becoming a united nation of Australia in 1901, the founding date of this Constitution;
    (3) Australia was enlarged and enriched by the acceptance of waves of millions of migrants from all over the globe, to make the diverse and culturally enriched nation we have today.
    2. This Constitution enables the formation of a parliament, elected by all Australian citizens regardless of origin, which shall make laws for the benefit of all Australians, whether of ancient ancestry, a descendent of original settlers, or who was made a citizen yesterday.
    3. The Constitution resolves that no laws be passed which favour one race, culture or ancestry over any other, or seek to exclude anyone from approving or disapproving of such laws through appropriate electoral voices.

  • MungoMann says:

    Who at Quadrant are we going to appoint as the ‘Bookmaker’ to the Constitution Cup? Somedays I’m confident that the black filly The Voice will sprain a leg and need to be put down behind a screen. Then I talk to a bunch of professional punters I know at Pascoe University in Melbourne and they whisper to me that the trainers at Langton Stables have got this stuff called Woke-juice that is better than steroids. One injection into the voters & The Voice is a shoe-in they claim.
    We need a few commentators in the know to start running some books!

  • Brian Boru says:

    The answer to question 1 is: “HE WHO ALLEGES MUST PROVE”. Professor? Craven knows that. This piece in the Weekend Australian (which I haven’t read) seems just more trickery by just another tricky dicky of a lawyer and is unfortunately typical of what has been and what will be coming.
    Call out this polemical trick whenever it appears. It is the “yes” case that bears the responsibility of convincing voters, not the other way round.

    • lhackett01 says:

      True but, unless the ‘No’ case is forcefully presented, the public will be beguild by the ‘Yes’ campaign. that is about to massively dominate all media.

  • Katzenjammer says:

    If the Voice can only be established by permission of the immigrant national populace via a referendum and funding by the colonial usurpers, then in what way is it an independent autonomous Voice? The internal contradictions are clear indications it’s a game of hide the pea under the thimbles.

    • pmprociv says:

      You’ve hit one big nail on the head there, KJ! If The Voice eventuates, who do you reckon will be elected to it? Not just nobodies from remote communities, but the big men, already with loud voices: heads of land councils and the like, including some within the Indigenous Nomenklatura (I suspect such hope is driving much of their clamour right now). And, of course, they’ll see their job will be to continue promoting victimhood, to ensure their hold on power and funding; the past will remain forever unchanged, only constantly embellished and exploited, scratching at our guilt. This, of course, is an extension of traditional culture, albeit on a national scale: mega-humbugging. On top of lucrative salaries, offices, staff and vehicles will be required, plus travel allowances etc., Closing the gap won’t come cheaply, while the gap itself will continue to grow, seeing its real causes escape recognition.

  • Warwick Lewis says:

    Ironically it is a lack of representation that will be the biggest hurdle
    The No case has no voice.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    Back in the day when young and carefree I recall chalking on station footpaths
    ‘Don’t let Childe Harold and Aunty Gough tell you bedtime stories’, on the breaking of the nexus and
    Aboriginals YES Politicians NO. The nexus was not broken by Gough.
    The nation agreed and saw this as a way of allowing the aboriginal to be supported constitutionally.
    On the surface a committee of 24 to make decisions and give advice would appear to fail at the first hurdle.
    Such committees are unwieldy and can’t make effective decisions.
    The ideal size is about 6.
    Parliament would be trapped into a tower of Babel proscription which could not be acted on, but internationally was, according to the UN, binding.
    The aboriginal representatives in parliament at present appear to have difficulty agreeing on most things, even the Voice itself.
    It is well within the powers of Parliament to set up a standing committee on aboriginal affairs and draw on the talents of those aborigine’s and others in the elected parliament.
    Recently speaking to one who is invested in managing 35 bushland rehabilitation sites, it can be difficult to actually learn from aboriginals.
    She wants to bring back fire stick burning so all the fauna on her sites is not destroyed in yet another Victorian conflagration.
    However the aborigines who claim ownership of the land have lost any skills in forestry oncethey have became urbanised. They wish to assist and bring back these skills. They don’t need a 24 representative committee to do that.
    It is clear that many people will be disadvantaged once the grog flows in some communities.
    Although the Government has just thrown money at it, why did not those with direct access to the people and elected aborigines have a Voice in Parliament?
    My problem with the referendum revolves around a fairy story.
    When I was a child I read of the good fairy godmother that used to grant 3 wishes, and only 3 wishes.
    However I saw a way around this if ever it came to pass.
    I would make my last wish to have another 10 wishes and then when I got to number 9, repeat the wish.
    So in the present referendum the people don’t change the constitution or even decide on the change.
    Its delegated to parliament.
    So the nexus is broken between the direct will of the people and an actual constitutional amendment.
    We are supposed to give parliament the power to, if they want, endlessly change the constitution to provide the Voice or assuage the delights of the good burghers at the UN.
    Parliament could easily decide to direct states, through the Constitution in areas never before in the purvey of the federal parliament.
    Like in the ads ‘Tell us the price’.
    What are we voting for?
    Why should we give constitutional amendment power to Parliament when we are adult and fit enough as a mature democracy to decide for ourselves?
    What is the real problem that Doubting Thomas, and his namesake have? Does Professor Craven have a real workable constitutional amendment, that can be debated and placed as an additional referenda, so that we, the people can vote on it?
    Its Time, to flesh things out.

  • Laurence says:

    I think POB is right, we need to consider the referendum (whatever that may be) on principles not the misunderstanding of the proposal. The onus is on the proponents (the Yes case) to provide a proposal that can be clearly considered by all Australian voters. If the people vote “No” or “Yes” under these circumstances, it should be accepted by all as we have done on many occasions. This in a way occurred on the same sex marriage plebiscite, where most Australians accepted the outcome and have moved on. Most Australians also accepted the over reach of Government during the Covid lockdowns, which I believe is the reason why federal Labor is now putting forward a non proposal for the voice confident (or hopeful) that we would again blindingly comply. This , is in my view, is a very cynical approach and also ludicrous that such a weak and unformed proposal has been put forward in a very educated and sophisticated society. But, there it is. Professor Craven maybe wrong or merely premature with his jarguments but at least he has put forward some substance to the the “Yes” position. The ball is in the court of the Yes case.; we need some substance from you guys, please.

    • lhackett01 says:

      The Same Sex Marriage voluntary postal vote (NOT A PLEBISCITE) passed because of manipulation by the Government that was ‘concerned not to offend the non-heterosexual cohort’, so made no effort to rectify the almost complete lack of information that would have supported a ‘No’ vote. There is little openly public dissention at the result because any voices that disagree with ‘woke’ attitudes are cancelled, ignored, or hysterically denounced by the vocal ‘woke’ and the largely supportive media.

      Unless the ‘No’ case is put to the public by a campaign equal to that pushing the ‘Yes’ case, then we will be steamrolled once more.

  • Katzenjammer says:

    In principle “no”, no matter what proposals are laced into it. That’s what “vote on principles” means. In principle, no clause that divides the population should be in the constitution.

  • Paul W says:

    Greg Craven previously wrote an article “The High Court of Australia: A Study in the Abuse of Power”. In that article he took the court to task for its political activism. Now he claims that the Voice won’t be the subject of more such activism?

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    Many of those advocating for the Voice would once have believed in Dr Martin Luther King’s dream, that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Now they are advocating for an institution which is open only to those based on the color of their skin, not by the content of their character.
    The simple truth is that any institution open only to one race is by definition is racist, and Professor Craven’s ten questions can’t alter that fact.

    • pmprociv says:

      This is where it gets so messy, doesn’t it, Ian? Where do the recently-self-declared, pale-skinned, urban First Nations people fit here? Then, as if to help matters, to support the Yes case, Albo brings out that Afro-American basketball ex-star, who has absolutely nothing in common with ATSI people other than his pigmented skin. It’s a dog’s breakfast even before we start thinking about who the intended beneficiaries might be.

  • Blair says:

    “Finally, what will be the consequences if the referendum fails? This really is a question for each of the two Yes cases. The bottom line is that Indigenous souls would be broken. ”
    But if the Referendum is successful, non-indigenous souls won’t be broken? Or aren’t all souls equal?

  • gilmay97 says:


    Suburban pseudo aboriginals many with more European than aboriginal genetics are again dominating the real aboriginal people, they are manipulating others to follow their ‘new understanding and direction’, are insultingly inferring their current aboriginal and others representing them in parliament are incompetent and useless — therefore they need a referendum to get a political voice.. They already have 10 members of parliament that claim aboriginality, giving them more representation in parliament than ever before.

    Aboriginals are only 3.2% of the population, why is it touted to give them preference over the other 96.8% of the population — who are the fools behind this proposal?
    The people of Australia are well aware of their manipulative, dishonest tactics, and guilt industry rorting public funds.
    The many aboriginal people who disregard the Law with horrendous violence in their communities want a referendum to give them additional voices in Parliament for everyone else obey, what for, to promote their violence and disrespect for law. Prove your worthiness by obeying and respecting existing law by reducing your crime rate and numbers convicted and jailed, show some lawful respect to the people of Australia. They already have a voice in Parliament through their elected members on the same basis as all other Australians — no racial discrimination and preferential treatment to anyone.

    This prosed referendum is just another PR exercise in stupidity, political diversionary tactics and massive waste of millions of your taxpayer money that should be going to education, health hospitals, and ambulance services in your community — The referendum appears basically just a test of public stupidity and gullibility, to see how far the government can go in manipulating the public wasting and rorting public funds?

    The social engineers, do-gooders, dullards, and those with disrespect for equal representation in the parliament and little analytic ability want the Referendum to give Aboriginals a greater voice in parliament than any other Australian citizens. These people do not appear to have the intelligence to understand a Democracy does not work like that — that is how Dictatorships work with a select few having a greater voice than others, that always morphs into greater control and brutality upon those who disagree.

    This would just be a bigger and more authoritarian powerful version of the already totally failed, discredited, useless and defunct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). Only this time when it totally stuffs-up with stupidly, and massive waste of public funds, you cannot get rid of the abomination as it is locked into the constitution. There is always plenty of time to regret bad decisions.

    The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) (1990–2005) was the Australian Government body through which Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were formally involved in the processes of government affecting their lives, established under the Hawke government in 1990. It was an expensive disaster that failed hopelessly, it appears its only success was making some members very wealthy? It was disbanded as a useless disastrous waste of resources and money.
    NOW they want to establish the same instrument into the constitution, where in a few years of likely repeated uselessness, and massive waste of resource and millions of dollars — They will be stuck with it forever — Unless they have another multi-million-dollar referendum to remove it. Better to learn from history and reject the referendum — interesting how history repeats itself, unless you work hard to prevent it.
    A democracy is based on people having equal voting rights to elect whoever they choose with policies they consider best for their country and community. The 2022 election saw ten indigenous people elected to parliament, giving a 4.41 percent of the 227 parliamentarians for a group that is only 3.2 percent of the population and other Australians 96.8%; on that basis they could be deemed very over represented.

    Other ethnic groups in the community and Australians at large take the view that it does not matter what your ethnicity is, you will work equally for all people without bias, fear nor favour. That is not the policy or intent of the aboriginal groups who see politics only as vehicle for self-benefit and wealth, with no consideration towards other Australians or our future democracy.

    Wise aboriginal leaders have also stated their opposition to such Referendum, as it will likely create a deep divide within the Australian people where it won’t just be current abuse of aboriginals attacking Aboriginals and blaming others for their own inabilities, violence, and abuse of law — the rest of Australia will object to these aboriginal abuses of each other, their destruction of settlements, and houses provided by millions of taxpayer’s monies, — they will risk the people withdrawing their funding, tolerance and friendship.

    Why are those people putting so much effort into getting a referendum doing nothing to stop the shocking primitive violence and disrespect for decency and law in aboriginal communities, they cannot even fix their own problems at community level and the want to apply their same inabilities and disrespect for law into a voice in the constitution — we have already heard their voice and seen their incompetence, violence, murder, rapes of women and children in their communities. We must keep this mindset out of the constitution at any cost.

    If the extreme aboriginal violence as in Wadeye, Aurukun etc, were to occur in any other non-aboriginal community there would be outrage and the problem quickly dismantled — Why is it ongoing for decades in these communities? Women and children, raped, bashed terrorised, forced to leave home with nowhere to go, this domestic terrorism should never have been allowed to developed, but it did because no one was prepared to forcefully protect the families, by taking the perpetrator out of the community for mental health assessment and if deemed necessary put into a psychiatric ward or jail — in case they were called a racist. In this instance being called a racist would be a badge-of-honour for protecting the defenceless brutalised women and children.

    Where are the Women’s Rights activist on this issue — obviously of little value when it comes to real tough issues that require hard work and solutions, away from the ‘fluffy’ office life of making public statements from an air-conditioned office.

  • March says:

    Results of Poll in the SMH today show the impact of 25 years of propaganda and a broken education system: over 60% in favour. Turning this Titanic around a monumental task in face of the Castle “it’s the vibe” argument.

  • brennan1950 says:

    I welcome a test of our press media; let’s book a full page ad in The Australian and others with a no case well argued, bullet point ad and see if it is turned away.

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    What’s next?
    Well, Chinese Australians could have a case for their special Voice to Parliament. They have made a distinct contribution to the restaurant scene and have been discriminated against (eg anti-Chinese riots on the 19th C gold fields.)
    But buried in the clamour for ‘Treaty’ is the next step: compo; endless compo. That will convert the 100% Aboriginal, part-Aboriginal and less than 1% Aboriginal mobs into a permanent aristocracy, forever sucking on the public teat.

  • Katzenjammer says:

    Many special interest groups have a Voice to parliament. They fund and form their own lobby group by their own efforts. Perhaps that point should be near the top of the “no” arguments. No other groups demand constitutional recognition and financial support before getting off their butts. If Aboriginies want a national lobby group they should demonstrate they’re capable of doing it by doing it themselves.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Thanks Peter good piece. One query, you refer to the relevant part on race in section 51 as ( xvii ). In my copy of the constitution it has this as 51 ( xxvi ) ?
    Needless to say I’ll be voting NO on it all anyway.

  • Adelagado says:

    A stunning quote from the latest Gatestone Institute newsletter…
    “This (population) crisis is not a projection, it is happening right now. By 2050, 60% of Italians will have no brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles or aunts.”
    Western Civilisation is dying. The call for The Voice is a local symptom.

  • lhackett01 says:

    The discussion about an incorporating an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament has become open-ended, fuzzy, and based largely on ‘feel good’ emotions. Rather, the discussion must be about assessing the Voice’s justified and absolute need, and the Constitutional consequences of such inclusion.

    The nub of the issue is that nobody in Australia must have power, treatment, or consideration that is different from anyone else. Aborigines may wish to claim a special place and demand special treatment. However, there is no basis in reason for either. Aborigines, as so loosely defined by governments and courts, in fact are overwhelmingly genetic mongrels as are most other Australians. Most ‘Aborigines’ have no grounds to claim Aboriginality than do other Australians who would wish to be defined to be Irish, Chinese, or any other peoples. All may properly claim lineal descent and be proud to do so, but Australian citizens claiming racial or cultural definition other than ‘Australian’ is nonsense, divisive, and power seeking.

    The jurisdiction of the High Court of Australia, as Peter O’Brien says, covers especially the Constitution. The inclusion of an Aboriginal Voice in the Constitution would create a continuing role for the High Court in interpreting any and all matters relating to the Voice for which it was asked to rule. This would be a serpent in the garden of democracy that would forever endanger cohesion of Australian society. Nothing in the Constitution must allow or facilitate division within our community.

  • john.singer says:

    Very well put Peter O’Brien, I agree with most of your statements, but some need a little expansion or clarification.

    1. The “Race Power” that exists under Sec 51 (xxvi) is the left-over from bad drafting and Constitutional amendment. When the Constitution was prepared some States would not concede their control over Aboriginal people to the Commonwealth and therefore the Clause excluded them. The rest of the “Race Powers” were inserted into the Constitution because powerful interests wanted to deport the Chinese and Islander workers to protect local jobs (explains why the “White Australia” policy was soon enacted.) There should have been two separate clauses and then the 1967 Referendum would not have combined the powers. The reason for not deleting the clause now is that the States would then be able to legislate race laws themselves and that would be catastrophic.
    2. The Constitution in not a “Birth Certificate” or a “Pre-nuptial” but it is a Contract. But it is also a Testamentary Trust on the demise of the British Colonies and one responsibility of a Trust is that the Trustees do not waste the asset. The entire “Voice” proposal increases cost for no actual benefit.
    3. The High Court over-reached in the Mabo (no2) case and if we believe that this Court (which contains none of the Mabo Judges) would not similarly over-reach then we must look seriously at the Love case. We must imagine this Court’s position if the “Voice” was successful at a Referendum.
    We are not a Racist Nation, we were an open and friendly Assimilated Nation pre-Whitlam and we could be again. We have done wrongs and they can be corrected but not if they are enshrined in a Constitution. Since World War II our population has grown nearly fourfold and we are still reasonably well-assimilated for a Nation with people from so many parts of the world. People with so many skin colours which we accept with no discriminatory requirements.
    May we forever remain so.

  • rosross says:

    NO because a voice as well as being racist and undemocratic is impossible.

    In our democracy we each have a voice, it is called the vote. Why would a tiny minority of Australians need or get an extra voice.. We are talking about roughly 700,000 Australians who register Aboriginal ancestry and for most of those, it is so minimal they are more Anglo-European than anything else so why more voice?

    In 1788 there were 350 plus groups here, most no more than family clans, without a common language, generally at war with each other and the British called them first Indians, then Natives and finally Aborigines. They were NOT united.

    Today we have thousands of variations on those original themes ranging from 100% Aboriginal from one tribal group or another, not many of those, to less than 1%, lots and lots of those. They are NOT united except as Australians and with a common language, English.

    How can such a diverse and divided group be united enough to speak with one voice? It is impossible. And what purpose would it serve?

    Either we have a modern Western democracy or we do not? An extra voice for a few Australians, a tiny minority out of 26 million, is not only unconstitutional and undemocratic it is utterly racist.

    There was no one group or unified Aboriginal in 1788 and after more than two centuries of constant intermarriage, there most certainly is not now.

    We have gone from 350 plus tribal groups to thousands of variations on the theme in 2022. There were 350 plus ‘voices’ in 1788, which is why no Treaty could ever be negotiated and today we have thousands of ‘voices.’
    Go to communities and see how much trouble they have still with skin traditions and family divisions if you want to know how ridiculous it is to have a concept of a voice for Australians with Aboriginal ancestry.
    Someone in a remote community in NT, 100% from a tribal group has NOTHING in common with someone in a remote community in Far North Queensland, 100% from another tribal group. And I can assure you, neither has anything in common with urban Aborigine Lites who have found a distant part-Aboriginal ancestor but are pretty much descended over 8-10 generations from mostly Anglo-Europeans.
    The racism of it all is breathtaking.

    Many Australians have no idea that to vote for an extra voice for Australians with Aboriginal ancestry is to betray and possibly destroy our democracy.

    The stupid idea is that a tiny group of Australians, who are not in the least united, except as Australians, ranging from 100% Aboriginal ancestry, very few of those, to less than 1% Aboriginal ancestry, lots of those, and with most so minimally Aboriginal in ancestry they are not, should get more voice than other Australians.

    Not just a stupid idea but unconstitutional, undemocratic and breathtakingly racist. AND IMPOSSIBLE.

  • w.laing says:

    If Australia has produced any equivalent to US Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Hallmark-card language, that famously would have made Justice Scalia “hide [his] head in a bag” had he written it, then it is this “souls will be broken” of Craven’s.
    Why, exactly, would “souls” be “broken”? Show me a soul. Show me (a) an unbroken soul and (b) a broken soul.
    Anyway the rhetoric is not only unfit for a serious constitutional discussion, it isn’t lousy even as rhetoric. “Broken soul” is not even an expression. In every tradition souls have there being and their function; they may be lost, but continue to exist and function, even in Hell. Even God, however wrathful He may be, is never said to “break” souls.
    I can imagine the writer thinking:, “Breaking hearts”? then rejecting it as hackneyed, already used by Malcolm Turnbull, when having lost his referendum, he accused Howard of breaking the nation’s heart (one of the most embarrassingly petulant speeches I’ve ever heard, btw). So he decided to be writerly and coin a new expression. “Let’s see, what’s a bit like a heart…?”

  • Ceres says:

    Albanese in a rare moment of realism, which he probably regrets saying now, stated
    – “only a “brave” government would defy the power of the voice”.
    The racist tags would send most of our cowardly politicians into quivering messes at the mere suggestion, so all demands would probably be given the green light.
    By the way, expect most of the demands to be about the transfer of even more of your money, either literally or in kind, to aborigines.

  • Katzenjammer says:

    An example of an issue that directly effects Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders – the violation of human rights over climate change.
    “In a landmark decision, a United Nations committee on Friday found Australia’s former Coalition government violated the human rights of Torres Strait Islanders by failing to adequately respond to the climate crisis.”

  • SOS says:

    Now we know what “the voice” is
    IT’S the UN
    Albanese is making the UN Australia’s Head of State

  • SOS says:

    Senator Jacinta Price is the genuine Aboriginal on the front line
    She says #VoteNo

    “Here are five plain and simple reasons Australia needs to say NO to the Voice.

    1. Racial Division
    2. It’s Undemocratic
    3. Indigenous Australia is diverse
    4. “the Voice” will have a veto over the government
    5. One side is immediately labelled racists for opposing poor, undemocratic, race-based governance” -Senator Jacinta Price

    • rosross says:

      Price is not aboriginal. She describes herself as Australian with mixed ancestry – Celtic and Warlpiri. The problem is in calling some Australians Aboriginal instead of Australians with aboriginal ancestry. We dont keep calling migrants by their names of ancestry or origin.

  • padraic says:

    I wonder if The Australian would print Peter’s critique of Prof Craven’s 10 points? I get the impression from the editorials that it favours the Voice.
    Today’s Australian had some interesting quotes from Megan Davis and Linda Burney about the Voice. Megan Davis is reported to have said that once the Constitution is changed it “will give the Australian Government the opportunity to make policies with Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander people, rather than for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This seems to indicate that the Australian Government is dealing with a separate Aboriginal Government.
    Linda Burney is reported to have said “It won’t be on things like taxation or defence…”. Defence involves diplomacy, so why is a well known Aboriginal Senator accompanying Penny Wong to the UN on what looks suspiciously like ambassadorial work experience? The Foreign Minister mentioned in her Press Club talk that Labor were considering a First Nations’ diplomatic role, so what are we to believe?
    In both instances, it seems indicative of the formation of a nation within a nation and God only knows how that will work out, but I think we can have a good guess.

  • andrash says:


    My very incomplete list of reasons for voting NO to the ‘Voice’

    The Voice is undemocratic and racist. It creates a group in the constitution that has special privileges, a group, in the words of George Orwell, which is ‘more equal’ in the eyes of the law than others.

    While asserting that the Voice will have power only to advise parliament and not a veto power, in the words of the prime minister Albanese “only a brave government would defy the power of the voice”. The Voice would very likely paralyze parliament as each issue would have to be debated from the Aboriginal point of view. There would be no issue that the Voice group (chamber) could not consider as affecting Aborigines. Take any example, just the current one of the proposed federal anti corruption body. You would think it’s an issue not affecting aborigines. But wait, what about corruption within the Voice group itself? The Voice would want to make sure that it will not be covered under the legislation.

    Cost. As Jacinta Price says, it would be ‘bureaucracy piled on bureaucracy’. We are yet to find out but it appears that there will be hundreds of groups that need to have individual representations all presumably employing well paid Aboriginal bureaucrats on the federal feed.

  • March says:

    Meanwhile, without the Voice, the busy beavers at NSW NPWS plan to hand over ALL National Parks in NSW to Aboriginal Collectives….

    Aboriginal joint management model consultation
    A groundbreaking proposal has been announced to develop a new model for Aboriginal joint management of the NSW national park estate in consultation with Aboriginal people and other national park stakeholders.

    The NSW Government recognises that land title is central to the development of a new model for Aboriginal joint management. Accordingly, it is anticipated the new model will provide for the potential handback of title to all NSW national parks – covering nearly 10% of the State – over a 15 to 20-year period, subject to the land being leased back (long term and for nominal rent) to the NSW Government for its continued use and management as national park.


  • Anthony says:

    The referendum for ‘The Voice’ will list mighty heavily to the ‘No’ side, in the end. The result will not be received well and there will be ill-directed accusations of racism, and outbursts of violence. Sore losers? Perhaps. If this is the manner in which bad news is accepted, then the original proposal is not deserved. Especially, when there is no demonstrable evidence of a cessation to the poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence in their own communities. Vast improvements in these areas will be seen favourably and will go a long way to swaying public opinion for a future vote. But not without such successes.

    On the matter of being identified as a First Nations person, if it can be legally proven that one was born in a hospital since the year 1900 – then you are an Australian. Not a foreign person from overseas, not an illegal alien, not an indigenous or First Nations person – but an Australian. Irrespective of any and all such decendency. You may privately represent a particular group, as is your right, and lobby various organisations for funding and so forth. But any claim to automatically receive funding from a federal government, or body thereof – is pure folly. Any admission to government at any level should be made transparently through application to the Australian Electoral Commission.

    It doesn’t get any simpler. Anything to the contrary is morally, if not legally – wrong.

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