The looming Voice referendum continues to generate controversy across the Australian church. I think it’s fair to say most Christians are a bit confused with what it is and how they should respond. This is understandable given the polarising nature of the debate so far. But make no mistake, the Voice is a matter Christians cannot, must not, ignore.
Rev Dr Michael Jensen, rector of St Mark’s in Sydney’s Darling Point, recently wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition. ‘The Voice: A Christian Consideration’, which offers a favourable summary of the Voice. While every Christian ought to say a hearty ‘amen’ to Jensen’s advice that loving our neighbours as ourselves “requires us to imagine what it is to be like another person”, his case for Christians voting ‘yes’ falls short. The central debate surrounding the Voice is not whether Christians are willing to listen to Indigenous Australians — there’s no disagreement here. Rather, it is whether the Constitution ought to be changed to establish an ‘independent and permanent advisory body’ embedded in Australian governance. Contra Jensen’s claim, the Voice would establish what is, to all intents and purposes, a third chamber of government. As Malcolm Turnbull put it in 2017 (before doing an about-face):
Every single law that goes through the parliament, whether it is tax, whether it is defence, whether it is social security, whether it is health – that all affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because they’re part of the Australian community. And that would mean that that assembly would have the right, if it chose, to examine every piece of legislation. It would be, in effect, a third chamber. I don’t think it’s a good idea and if it were put up in a referendum, it would go down in flames.
Most poor political decisions are the product of emotion and hysteria rather than rational debate. In the words of former Senator Amanda Stoker, the Voice debate deserves a lot more “head” than “heart.” Given the still unexplained but likely momentous consequences of the referendum, it’s simply not good enough for Christians to be led purely by good intentions. What follows is a list of reasons to vote ‘no’. It should be noted that these aren’t the only reasons a Christian might reject the Voice, nor are they ranked in any particular order.
1/ There can never be any such thing as an ‘Indigenous Voice’
Calling this initiative the ‘Voice’ is both politically loaded and grossly misleading. It insinuates the proposed advisory body will be the voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, which rather arrogantly presumes indigenous Australians share a unified perspective on all social, political and religious issues. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For instance, key Indigenous leaders such as Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Anthony Dillon, and Warren Mundine have been vocal in their opposition. Their voices have largely been mocked or ignored by the mainstream media, as Channel 10’s recent apology to Senator Price attests. As Warren Mundine argues, “There are many Aboriginal people who oppose Albanese’s Voice because it’s not our voice.” He goes on to note:
The Voice and Makarrata Commission both sound to me like more bureaucracy controlling indigenous lives and bossing us around … Traditional owners should be their own voice for their own nation and country. They don’t need some new national Voice or a Makarrata Commission to speak for them. They need the Government to listen and go talk to them through their own representative bodies.
Thus, in its assumptions and one-size-fits-all appraisal of Aborigines, the Voice is guilty of the very thing it seeks to combat, the blatant racism of stereotyping. The notion that there can be a single ‘voice’ is a direct dismissal on the diversity of perspectives amongst indigenous Australians. This certainly applies to many indigenous Christians, who will disagree with the premise of the Voice entirely.
Far from representing the perspectives of Indigenous people, the Voice is driven by a narrow activist class. As Janet Albrechtsen, who is both a columnist and ambassador for the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, has written:
The Voice will create constant opportunities for a tiny minority of activists to hold parliament and executive government to ransom by using the immense leverage and opportunities for lawfare carefully woven into the Albanese Amendment. It is no exaggeration to say it will cause the end of parliamentary democracy as we have known it.
The Voice furthers the mission of identity politics and that is wrong in itself. To borrow from Martin Luther King Jr., it would appoint people based on the colour of their skin rather than the content of their character.
2/ Revenge, not reconciliation
At its heart, the Voice is about revenge for historic sins rather than seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. As Rev. Mark Powell has argued, the original Makarratta concept is one of ritualized payback, embedded in both the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Voice. In The Politics of Suffering (2011), Peter Sutton comments on the situation following the 2008 apology by Kevin Rudd:
It may turn out that these various apologies are as good as Reconciliation gets, especially in the absence of a mass Indigenous Forgiveness Movement. That such a movement is unlikely to materialize has been prophesied by the general absence of any acceptance-of-the-apologies response from Indigenous Australians. Reportedly, many people in the bush were indifferent to or unaware of the 2008 apology.
He continues, quoting an Aurukun woman, “that’s for urban people and whitefellas.’”
There exists a significant gulf between the indigenous Australians who are hurting and elite activists who claim to be pleading their cause. The Voice seeks to solve a problem by institutionalising racial division across Australian society. In the first century, Saint Paul in his epistle to the Galatians addressed the issue of racial division within the early church, admonishing Jewish believers for refusing to eat with Gentile converts (Gal. 2:11-14). God’s solution to this problem was not further division by ethnicity but a declaration of the reconciliation offered by Christ. After explaining that Christ died to redeem both Jews and Gentiles, Paul declared those famous words:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28)
Certainly, this passage addresses the subject in the context of the church, not civil society. Yet the underlying principle applies. In Christ, believers are not primarily ‘white’ or ‘black,’ but all of them the forgiven children of God.
Under the guise of ‘anti-racism,’ Australians will be officially divided by ethnicity once more. This will only undo the efforts of previous generations that sought to bring Australians together. Rather than reconciling us, the Voice seeks to constitutionalise, and thus ossify, the ‘us vs. them’ mentality already far too prevalent. Far from healing, it will perpetuate and intensify division.
3/ The Voice enshrines divisive racialism
There have been significant advances across the Western world in confronting racism over the past century. Indigenous Australians have long had the right to vote, stand for political office, protest, and lobby parliament. These are rights and privileges which many countries are yet to grant their citizens. Again, Janet Albrechtsen sums it up in a few words: “At a philosophical and principled level, the Voice is illiberal, divisive, and inequitable. It creates permanent race-based privilege and turns Australia into a constitutionally endorsed two-tier society.”
Christians are repeatedly warned throughout Scripture not to show partiality towards others (Ex. 23:2-3; Deut. 16:19; Jam. 2:1). God makes clear that humans are at risk not only of favouring the rich and powerful, but also the poor and disadvantaged (Lev. 19:15). The Voice violates this advice by creating a unique political body of which only Aborigines can be a part. This is unbiblical for the same reason it would be improper to establish a separate political body giving ‘voice’ to women in Australia. Need it be said that the professional feminists likely to constitute such a body would not represent the average Australian female, just as the urban indigenous elite now demanding a ‘yes’ vote would not represent remote communities.
Some ‘yes’ advocates might point out that, in fact, women do have their own ‘voice’ to parliament in the Minister for Women. But shouldn’t those same people recognise every parliament in Australia has an existing voice for Indigenous Australians in their ministers for indigenous affairs? Worth noting in this context is that the current federal parliament is the only jurisdiction in Australia with more indigenous members than the proportion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in the general population.
4/ The Voice rejects forgiveness
There can be no possibility of reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians unless there is forgiveness. This applies to non-indigenous Australians and indigenous Australians alike. It’s important to emphasise this because in public debates indigenous Australians are repeatedly referred to as victims. However, like all peoples everywhere, indigenous Australians are sinners in need of forgiveness. Categorising Australians into the ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ boxes inhibits free, open and sincere discussion, thus generating further racial acrimony. The Apostle Paul was aware of the devastating effects of harbouring resentment. Regarding a case of church discipline, he wrote:
Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes. (2 Cor. 2:10-11)
It’s clear that a refusal to offer forgiveness is a scheme Satan uses to create divisions. Rather than achieving reconciliation, perpetual grievance encourages and entrenches a vengeful mentality. True inside the church, it’s also true in society at large. The Voice offers no possibility of forgiveness or reconciliation. Rather, it seeks to remedy historic wrongs by subverting the Australian political system and would thereby do immense and further harm.
Relentlessly demanding apologies without the prospect of forgiveness is no way to achieve unity amongst Australians.
5/ The Voice distracts from real solutions
Rev Jensen is right to say “this particular referendum concerns the serious matter of the welfare of our Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander neighbours.” However, it will do the exact opposite of what it purports to be capable of achieving. As someone who grew up in rural Australia, I can testify to the devastating conditions in which many Indigenous Australians are raised. Fatherlessness, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence were and remain all too common.
Multiple government attempts to solve these problems with billions of dollars of funding through the Close the Gap campaign, ATSIC, and other projects have been abysmal. In most cases, they have left indigenous people worse off — recall, for example, both the corruption and utter failure of ATSIC to achieve its stated goals. It became such a disgrace that both Labor and the Coalition joined in bringing the rorting to an end once and for all. Regardless of how we reached our present state, no amount of money or constitutional recognition can solve problems that are at their heart and origin to do with family dysfunction. Many activists draw a beeline from these behaviours to historical injustices, citing “inter-generational trauma” and other throwaway lines as the root factors explaing why, for example, a Tennant Creek two-year-old is found to have been raped and infected with syphilis.
The great tragedy afflicting many indigenous homes is the lack of fathers. Fathers cannot be provided by the government, nor can the Constitution magically mend families. Indeed, increased dependence on government “sit down money” further destroys any sense of ownership and responsibility. By diverting attention from destructive cultural behaviours — most prominently, fatherlessness — the Voice seeks to misdirect us from acknowledging real problems and implementing real solutions. In the words of Anthony Dillon:
The Voice send[s] the poisonous message to indigenous Australians who suffer needlessly that their salvation lies in [the Voice] and [that] they are powerless to make any positive change in their lives, now or ever, through their own efforts or from receiving the help offered to them.
The Bottom Line
This article has argued that a ‘No’ vote is the best options for Christians to take in 2023. The Voice is not only imperfect but incredibly dangerous. It will not advance a reconciled Australia but, rather, one in which racial animosity will be further entrenched. Mundine is right to say “the Australian Constitution is not racist and does not need race-based privileges. Nor is it racist or to stand ‘on the wrong side of history’ to oppose constitutional amendment.“
At its core, the Voice cuts at the heart of Christianity. While the Voice proposes constitutional change as the answer, we find the true answer in the gospel. It is only through Christ that the dividing wall can be done away with once and for all.
While I don’t doubt the sincerity of believers who are planning to vote ‘yes’, their charitable hearts are sincerely misled. While motivated by a desire for unity, the Voice is — at heart — a divisive, dangerous and unjust distraction from real solutions for the real problems of Indigenous Australians.
Albrechtsen, Janet. “The Voice: Beyond Belief?,” in Beyond Belief: Rethinking The Voice to Parliament, edited by Peter Kurti and Warren Mundine. West End: Connor Court, 2022.
Mundine, Warren. “The Indigenous Voice Does Not Speak For Country,” in Beyond Belief: Rethinking The Voice to Parliament, edited by Peter Kurti and Warren Mundine. West End: Connor Court, 2022.
Richards, Lisa. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parliamentarians in Australia: a quick guide.” Parliament of Australia, Retrieved from https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp2223/Quick_Guides/IndigenousMPs2022. (Accessed 20 June 2023).
Stoker, Amanda. “Head Over Heart: The Legal, Democratic and Political Problems Raised by the Uluru Statement,” in Beyond Belief: Rethinking The Voice to Parliament, edited by Peter Kurti and Warren Mundine. West End: Connor Court, 2022.
Sutton, Peter. The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the End of the Liberal Consensus. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2011.
 Amanda Stoker, “Head Over Heart: The Legal, Democratic and Political Problems Raised by the Uluru Statement,” in Beyond Belief: Rethinking The Voice to Parliament, ed. Peter Kurti and Warren Mundine (West End: Connor Court, 2022)
 Warren Mundine, “The Indigenous Voice Does Not Speak For Country,” in Beyond Belief: Rethinking The Voice to Parliament, ed. Peter Kurti and Warren Mundine (West End: Connor Court, 2022), 81
 Janet Albrechtsen, “The Voice: Beyond Belief?,” in Beyond Belief: Rethinking The Voice to Parliament, ed. Peter Kurti and Warren Mundine (West End: Connor Court, 2022), 27
 Peter Sutton, The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the End of the Liberal Consensus (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2011), 196
 Sutton, The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the End of the Liberal Consensus, 196
 Albrechtsen, “The Voice: Beyond Belief?,” 27.
 Lisa Richards, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parliamentarians in Australia: a quick guide,” Parliament of Australia, https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp2223/Quick_Guides/IndigenousMPs2022. (accessed 20 June 2023).
 Mundine, “The Indigenous Voice Does Not Speak For Country,” 87.