Bennelong Papers

The Voice: Maori Activists’ Cautionary Lesson

In an article recently published in the Courier Mail entitled “Recognise Our First Australians”, the author, Joe Hildebrand, says Australia will not be complete as a nation until our First Australians are recognised in the Constitution by the Voice to Parliament, as urged by the Uluru Statement from the Heart. He says this has widespread support. What this journalist doesn’t explain is how constitutional recognition of the Voice will complete the nation.

The Nation of Australia came into full existence on September 17, 1900, when the proclamation was made under clause 3 of the Constitution of Australia Act declaring Queen Victoria’s satisfaction that the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia had agreed they should be united under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia. Previously, the continent was divided among six British colonies.

Hildebrand’s claim is legally meaningless though it may have a satisfying emotional appeal for some.


First Nations?

Aboriginal activists and their supporters are keen to describe those claiming Aboriginal descent as “First Nations”.  The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission says in its “Aboriginal people in Queensland: a brief human rights history”:

Before the arrival of Europeans … over five hundred clan or family groups — many with distinct cultures, beliefs, and languages — occupied the continent.

What such diversity of peoples in pre-1788 Australia means is illustrated by the experience of Bennelong, a Wangal man well-known to Governor Arthur Phillip who went to Parramatta in 1789 and did not understand the language spoken there. The country of the Wangal people was around the present Sydney suburb of Strathfield, now only 14 kilometres distant along the M1 freeway.

Describing each of 500-or-so relatively small tribes as separate “nations” enables activists to pretend that, as descendants, they have sufficient legal status to enter into treaties with Australia and the various states, as is happening in Victoria and Queensland. But claiming to be nations, or even “sovereign nations”, doesn’t achieve that status. International recognition is necessary.

The term “First Nations” in any event involves plagiarising an expression the Canadian Encyclopedia says was invented in Canada and first used refer to indigenous peoples who are not Métis or Inuit in origin at a 1980 Ottawa meeting of hundreds of chiefs. It would be more accurate, as well as honest, to avoid that term here and refer to Aboriginal peoples by their traditional tribal or clan names, difficult though that would make it for them to say they were each entitled to recognition as independent actors under international law.

A Voice recognised by ordinary legislation won’t suffice, says the Courier Mail, because that can be repealed by any later parliament. But given recent experience with experiments in First Nations self-determination, it would be irresponsible to constitutionally entrench the Voice.

Remember ATSIC, a body made up of Aboriginal commissioners first elected in 1990 by other Aboriginals but funded by taxpayers? It was an experiment in representative self-determination  that collapsed in 2004 in a mire of corruption and nepotism so bad that, according to the Parliamentary Library Current Issues Brief No 4 of 2004/5, it was abolished with bi-partisan support. This disaster was able to be abolished because it was set up under ordinary legislation, not entrenched in the Constitution.

The corruption that destroyed ATSIC was not a one-off failure. It is being repeated in numerous indigenous corporations in which powerful families control, to the exclusion of other Aborigines, millions of dollars of mining royalties and government payments eg., in South Australia, Kakadu and the Pilbara. Fortunately for the public interest, none of these bodies has been put beyond parliamentary control: none are constitutionally protected.


The New Zealand experience

It’s also claimed that a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament is no cause for concern because it will merely be an advisory body with no power of veto. The New Zealand experience suggests otherwise.

In 1842, the British Crown entered into the Treaty of Waitangi with NZ’s Maoris. By this brief document, the Maoris recognised British sovereignty while the Crown guaranteed Maoris ownership of their lands and other “property” (taonga, in the Maori-language version of the Treaty). For over a century, the Treaty was a dead letter and colonists expanded their hold on Maori lands. Then, in 1975, Maori activists persuaded the NZ Parliament to pass The Waitangi Tribunal Act. It set up that Tribunal to hear claims by Maoris for breaches of the Treaty by the Crown.

Like the proposed Uluru Voice to Parliament, the Tribunal is an advisory-only body. It can only make recommendations to government; it cannot issue binding rulings.  But, backed by willing courts, it is changing NZ society and the economy.

The Tribunal quickly changed the meaning of taonga from “property” to “any prized thing”, and the NZ courts have gone along with this. The government accepted an early Tribunal recommendation that the Maori language, though not “property”, was nevertheless taonga, and declared Maori to be an official language of NZ. Many may have supported that. But the Tribunal has not stopped there. For example, after initially rejecting the Tribunal’s advice, the NZ government accepted that Maori taonga extends to entitling various Maori tribes, also known as iwis, to share in the proceeds of the government’s sale to commercial communications and telecasting interests of parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Tribunal held that because Maoris used the stars for navigation and “incorporated them in their own philosophical world view”, therefore the electromagnetic spectrum is a taonga guaranteed by the Treaty. Invented by the Tribunal and accepted by the NZ courts, Maoris now enjoy a “right to the development of that taonga through technology that has subsequently become available”.

A racially-based Voice limited only to giving advice to government is not, I think, a recipe for uniting all Australians, and it cannot be dismissed as no cause for concern if Aboriginal activists and supporters are as competent agitators as their Maori opposite numbers and Australian politicians are as susceptible to pressure from First Nations activists as are NZ politicians. The Victorian and Queensland governments confirm that they are indeed so susceptible: they are making treaties with their own First Nations people.

It can be predicted with certainty that putting an Aboriginal Voice into the Constitution will settle nothing and will complete nothing. “Reconciliation”, a comforting but unexplained term, will be as far away as ever so long as many Aboriginal activists continue to demand that the nation be shattered by recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty over the whole or some part of the continent. We will follow New Zealand’s experience, described by a NZ legal academic, David Round, who has long studied the Waitangi Treaty and its Tribunal activities:

During the most recent round of full and final [Waitangi Treaty] settlements we were constantly assured that after those settlements we could put the past behind us and finally move forward as one nation … Now we face claims for water, air, wildlife, and for sovereignty itself.

Our every act of generosity is simply followed by another demand. We have no assurance that even current demands are the last word. Grant them, and further demands will follow. To be frank, we would be fools if we were to believe any of the assurances of iwi leaders that this or that demand is the very last one. …

Maori activists are successfully pushing for ever more power outside the Treaty of Waitangi.  The Ardern government has recently been forced to release a radical report, He Puapua, commissioned by it in 2019 to report on appropriate measures to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Australia joined this declaration in 2010 and the Queensland Government has formally committed to a treaty with its First Nations “consistent with the principles articulated in” that same declaration.  As Amy Brooke writes in The Spectator, He Puapua proposes that New Zealand be predominantly governed by individuals of part-Maori ancestry — because, after 200 years of inter-marriage, full-blooded Maoris no longer exist.  Some of the recommendations of He Puapua have already been implemented: there is now a Maori Health Authority which can give directives relating to everybody’s health, plus separate Maori wards in local government councils have been entrenched.

Not only the courts but the bureaucracy and business have been receptive to the expansion of Maori influence. For example, a few weeks ago, Christian Hawkesby, an assistant governor of the Reserve Bank of NZ, gave a speech to the NZ Institute of Directors Leadership Conference entitled “The Future is Māori”.  It’s almost incomprehensible without referring to its glossary of Maori terms.  Hawkesby stresses the importance of an understanding of Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) becoming a core competency of all New Zealand directors, including those of the Reserve Bank. He says:

At Te Pūtea Matua, [ie the Reserve Bank] we are working hard to gather new information to shed light on Te Ōhanga Māori, in the hope that we’ll eventually emerge ki te ao mārama. The phrase can refer to both the first emergence of ngā Atua (the gods) into the light of day, and also to the dissemination of knowledge, when Tāne (or Tāwhaki, according to some iwi) returned from his trip to the highest of the heavens … We aren’t experts by a long way, but we are making good progress on integrating tikanga and Te Reo Māori into the daily life at Te Pūtea Matua.

Do people honestly believe that a merely advisory Voice to Parliament won’t be a springboard for advancing the interests, political and financial, of First Nations activists and their supporters in a similar way to that in which the advisory Waitangi Tribunal and Maori activists are behaving in New Zealand? Does anyone think judges here won’t be as inventive as NZ lawyers in expanding the interests of First Nations activists and their supporters under the pretence of advancing human rights once that is sanctioned by the Constitution requiring the Parliament to have regard to advice by whoever is able to claim to speak for First Nations? High Court judges have ruled that the metaphysical bond that links a foreigner of Aboriginal descent (but never resident here) with land in Australia is a Constitutional bar to the Parliament classing such person as an alien. More recently, a Federal Court judge invented a duty binding the Commonwealth environment minister to protect Australian children from harm that will be caused by climate change!

From 1981 to 1992, Douglas Drummond was Queensland’s Special Prosecutor following the Fitzgerald Inquiry, and subsequently a judge on the Federal Court of Australia, from which he retired in 2003. He wrote most recently for Quadrant of the politicised disgrace that is Victoria Police

17 thoughts on “The Voice: Maori Activists’ Cautionary Lesson

  • 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!

  • terenc5 says:

    The first Australians were Denisovans not Aborigines as revealed by Mungo Man. A real inconvenient truth for the aboriginal industry.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    It is certainly a political delusion, Michael, but people who would vote for the likes of the Victorian and Queensland governments are certainly stupid enough to vote “Yes” in a constitutional referendum on that issue.

  • nfw says:

    I look forward to any proposals being put forward in The Aboriginal Language and Aboriginal Script. That should keep them busy for a few hundred years.

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    The situation in NZ outlined above is exactly as described. Left wing politicians and activist tribunal members are slowly creating something approaching apartheid by creating new privileges based on race. In addition to those aspects described above the Ardern government is currently forcing local councils to adapt race-based wards. Initially these could be decided by ballot but Jacinta must have decided that it is racist to decline her initiative. Note that already the NZ equivalent of our local council DAs (for a new patio for instance) already requires approval from the local iwi (for a fee). These are the same iwi which have blackmailed huge amounts of taxpayer money in compensation for projects like road upgrades which might disturb river spirits. Anyone who thinks that this isn’t where Australia is headed with the “Voice” is kidding themselves.
    “Joe Hildebrand says Australia will not be complete as a nation until our First Australians are recognised in the Constitution by the Voice to Parliament, as urged by the Uluru Statement from the Heart. He says this has widespread support”. This is presumably the same kind of support imagined by the Left before the 2016 US election and Brexit vote. Fortunately our forebears produced a constitution requiring a majority of voters across the nation and a majority of voters in a majority of states to approve any proposed changes. As above, if Joe Hildebrand thinks that is achievable for a change privileging one race over others, he’s kidding himself.

  • Karnjirrwala says:

    How would Joe Hildebrand know what a complete nation is or what completes nations? The idea is ridiculous when a society has a democratic constitution unless there is a perceived gap in authority. Ordinary Australians don’t perceive a gap in political authority, at least not one that stems from the conquest of aboriginal lands. If that really was the issue a voice in parliament would be utter tokenism.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Australia will never be complete and final. It’s in the nature of human flourishing that the citizens of a nation continue to build the nation. But the marxist people have demonised nations and citizenship of nations.
    On Aborigines: They’d do best for themselves if they now fully embraced the form of Western Civ that the British brought to this continent, and fully assimilated the many boons and benefits pertaining.
    But the marxist people are insisting that Aborigines maintain themselves in pre-Stone Age misery.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Good piece Douglas and I agree with it and the comments, but how do to correct the ship, which is obviously drifting way, way off course, that is the problem ? It always raises my blood pressure a bit to have to endue, in a servile, even stupid, way the farcical ‘welcome to country’ charade, or should I say humbug, of being welcomed to my own country. I always muse over the possibility that one day the so called ‘local elder’ will forget himself and shout into the mic. what they all seem to really think, that we aren’t ‘welcome’ to their country and further more they hate us and can we all just P.O.Q. out of the place. I’d love to see just how all the ‘woke’ ABC and other lefty types actually running the show would react. It’d probably only take a few beers in the local pub before hand, bought for the ‘elder’, to kid him into doing it.
    Only joking of course.

  • DG says:

    I would have thought that Aboriginal Australians are fully reconciled to the nation we are all now part of. I’ve met plenty of Aboriginal Australians who are very happy with the cars, the roads, the piped water, mobile phones, taxation (and grants made from its revenues). As happy as Larry. They also seem to be reconciled to the health services, police and justice system that keeps most of them safe and healthy. Some aren’t reconciled here, of course, like a minority in all ethnic groups, and interact poorly with these wonderful features of modern civilisation. They seem reconciled to governments providing housing, special services, flying copyrighted flags and paying for comical welcome ceremonies. Fully reconciled already! No need for the recognition industry at all!

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Thank you Douglas for a very on-point article. The NZ example is frightening. A year or so ago, while on a cruise, I heard a guest speaker, a former governor of the Reserve Bank of NZ, say similar things. The NZ example will be a powerful part of the NO case.

  • lhackett01 says:

    As Douglas Drummond explains well, describing the Aborigine as ‘First Nations People’ is ludicrous.

    As for the Voice, and as Douglas has explained and as is obvious from what I have written below, Aborigines have shown little ability to manage their situation other than to perpetuate family squabbles. There is no reason to assume that giving Aborigines a discriminatory Voice to Parliament will change their lot.

    The many societal problems experienced by those Aborigines who dominate the news are caused in the main by their failure to integrate into Australian society. Aboriginal societal breakdown, disadvantage, and the “gap” continue in the main for reasons entirely within the hands of Aborigines themselves. Yet, the blame is foisted easily onto the ‘white’ man as a way of excusing Aboriginal inertia.

    Clause 5 of the Australian Constitution states in part that the Constitution shall be binding on the courts, judges, and people of every State and of every part of the Commonwealth. The 1967 referendum removed all mention of Aborigines. Consequently, Aborigines are deemed to be people of the Commonwealth like all other citizens, without distinction. The only provision in the Constitution that might affect Aborigines is Clause 51(xxvi) that allows the Parliament to make laws with respect to the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws. Because Aborigines are a racial group they could and do benefit from this Clause. There have been seven such beneficial Commonwealth Acts, including the Native Title Act 1993. As well, there have been many State Acts benefiting Aborigines exclusively. Amongst those benefits, various State and Commonwealth Acts have given Aborigines controlling or Native Title involvement in about 46% of the Australian landmass, and heading towards 74% if all present claims are agreed. If any changes should be made to the Constitution, then it would be to remove Clause 51(xxvi).

    No constitutionally-enshrined Voice to government must be allowed to anyone on the basis of sectional interests. That includes Aborigines. The only constitutionally-enshrined voice to government that must be allowed is that included already, the voice of the people by voting. Sectional interests within society are able already to lobby government via individual effort or via associations.

    The claim that Aboriginal culture is the only culture in the World that has not progressed during the last 40,000, 50,000, or 65,000 years, is no reason for being given a special place in the Constitution. It is a reason emphasising that the time has come for Aborigines to improve their lot by joining Australian society as an integral part.

    And, do keep in mind that the proponents of the Voice see it as only the first of three demands: the Voice, Treaty, and Sovereignty.

  • Harry Lee says:

    All over the Anglosphere, Europeans, and people of European descent, of the working/striving classes, have entered a period in which their efforts to live productive lives will not be rewarded. Actually, they are boing punished for being law-abiding and prodcutive.productivity. This is very evident in the USA and the UK. In those places, it is clear that non-competent people of non-European descent are being given freebies by way of affirmative action and wealth transfers. It is happening here too -but it is under the radar. Indeed, evidence of it is being deliberately suppressed and censored.

  • jbhackett says:

    Ian MacKenzie: Where I live, on Macleay Island, Qld, our council is also ‘obliged’ to pay the local Quandamooka Aboriginal Corporation a fee for inspecting/approving any work being undertaken on public land. This has been going on for about 20 years as far as I can recall. I was told that a local heritage trail proposed by the Macleay Island community couldn’t be completed because council couldn’t afford the extra cost. The Quandamooka representatives come across from Stradbroke Island and watch closely as (for example) the soil is disturbed slowly, scrape by scrape. They peer at pebbles and shells before permitting the work to continue. It’s quite a farce and those on the machinery struggle to keep a straight face. I have heard that the Quandamooka sometimes tells the council to just send them the inspection fee and save them the bother of a trip, but this may be gossip. The Quandamooka also advises the council on erosion and fire control and is well paid by council for those phony welcome to country/smoke puffing performances.

    Just for interest, the Quandamooka mob are a modern construct-historically there was never any group of that name.

  • DougD says:

    jbhackett – there may be some slight hope. I recall that, a few years ago, CSIRO celebrated the opening of a new laboratory, I think in Canberra, by paying Aborigines to perform a smoking ceremony. To chase away evil spirits. That provoked sufficient ridicule to cause CSIRO to remove all mention of this smoking ceremony from its website. At least I can’t find any now. Also, the risk of recidivism by the CSIRO is ever-present: see the recent renaming of its radio telescope at Parkes at

  • MungoMann says:

    Every now and then an Aboriginal Activist will let the quoll out of the bag. Watch below from 47:00 and esp 49:00 to 50:00 where he basically admits The Voice is not about really helping disadvantaged Aboriginal people. It is totally about getting a lever into our Constitution . He admits it would be a defeat to have a legislated Voice that works! Constitutional enshrinement is what they want ( for Treaty, Sovereignty, etc)

  • pmprociv says:

    Fundamentally, the concept of “an indigenous voice” itself is racist: it implies that indigenous people think alike, but differently from the rest of our population. In my experience, they are just as diverse as any other group of humans, with far more in common with than different from the rest of us. And they already have a voice, at least equal in influence to mine: they are represented in parliament by their local members, some of whom just happen to be indigenous as well (and, I think, numerically are proportional to the overall indigenous population).
    Now, should such an ATSIC-like body be resurrected, a big issue will instantly present itself: just who can vote for it? The lawyers will be rubbing their hands in glee — just imagine if Bruce Pascoe demanded this right, then multiply this by thousands. Should those who vote for a representative in The Voice, also be allowed to vote in normal elections, for their standard representatives? So they get two bites of the political cherry, undermining a principle of democracy. And just who will be elected? The usual Nomenklatura, of course: Marcia Langton, the Dodson bros, Megan Davis, Tom Calma, maybe even Saint Bruce himself et al. (admittedly, many are approaching their use-by dates, but plenty of young ones must surely be waiting in the wings for this life-long meal and travel ticket).
    And the claim that it will advise only on matters relating to “indigenous issues”? Last time I looked, all indigenous Australians were citizens, subject to every one of our laws — which means The Voice will interfere in everything. Although that shouldn’t matter, because it will only advise, not run the country . . .
    BTW, NZ is fundamentally different: the Maoris were technologically far more advanced than the Aborigines (even though the latter were perfectly adapted to their environments), and they were united by a common language, which of course didn’t stop them from killing (and often eating) each other big-time, but did enable them to collaborate when it came to attacking outsiders. And they had a sedentary life-style, with well-demarcated tribal lands (over which they constantly fought) on which they grew a variety of foodstuffs. But there’s no question that, just like our “First Nations” folk, they didn’t knock back any of the mod-cons that the white man introduced, which they now deftly combine with “traditional culture” to suit their own needs, and make their lives far more comfortable than those ever enjoyed by their ancestors,

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