The Voice

No Wonder They Won’t Detail How the Voice Will Work

The Voice, if it gets up, will not be an elected body in the sense in which we usually define elected bodies on the national political stage. To wit, bodies elected by voters through a secret ballot. The Calma-Langton report envisages an abbreviated bottom-up process in which movers and shakers in existing indigenous organisations form the basis of 35 local and regional “voices” which, in turn, will coalesce into state and territory groupings, from which twenty-four members will be appointed to the constitutionally-enshrined national Voice. It’s an appointment process.

There is an irresolvable problem here, which I will lay out.

The Voice is meant to make representations to parliament on legislation which effects Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people; each and every one of them. Assuming, for the sake of the argument, that a demarcation is possible which neatly divides law into two parts; one subject to the Voice and one not, what representation is the Voice to make across multiple policy areas? On land rights, on development versus preservation, on cashless debit cards, on grog in remote communities, on social welfare and health measures, on the policing of domestic violence, on the treatment of juvenile offenders, on measures to ensure children attend school, on taking abused and neglected children into care, and so on? There is no reason to suppose unanimity among Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, is there? As among the rest of us Aussies, opinions will surely differ.

I want to go to Edmund Burke and his famous speech to the electors of Bristol. In that speech he essentially distinguished between a delegate and representative, arguing that while the interests of those electing him should always be carefully considered, his duty was to be guided by his judgement and conscience in serving the interests of the country as a whole. He was a representative. Equally, it seems clear that the Voice will comprise representatives of sort. The process of their appointment effectively excludes them from being delegates; that is, taking and acting on specific instructions from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within a prescribed geographical area or constituency. Well and good. But what is the sanction normally applied to representatives? It is being voted out. So, Burke could follow his conscience but at intervals he would have to present himself to his electorate and they could kick him out. That is the sanction. Without this sanction, representatives, unlike delegates, can end up representing no one but themselves or their clique.

What does this mean? It means the Voice cannot work properly in the interests of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people unless its members subject themselves, at pre-set, reasonably short intervals, to a vote of their constituents. But that’s not its design. And, tellingly, that is the case for sound practical reasons. How in the world could electoral rolls be developed?

Let’s assume that the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is charged with the task of making up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rolls for each local region and state and territory. According to the 2021 Census, 812,728 people self-identified as being Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders; well up on the previous figure. This would give the AEC ballpark figures to work with. Of course, Census information on an individual level is confidential so couldn’t be used to fill up the rolls. And, in any event, I dare say that numbers of people have been imaginative in identifying their racial and ethnic makeup.

It’s all very well to be accepted as Aboriginal by your local community, as per the Calma-Langton model, but this would be hard for the AEC to work with in any systematic way in creating well-founded electoral rolls. I fear it couldn’t be done. Not surprising. The whole business of determining rights based on race is pernicious. It never leads to well-defined, wholesome outcomes.

Citizenship is a comparatively straightforward criterion for determining eligibility to vote. One adult citizen, one vote. Once race is brought into the equation, it gets messy indeed. Who’s in, who’s out; and how exactly would it be determined? I would guess that few of those self-identifying as Aboriginal could trace their roots back to 1788 without any ancestral trace of those who’ve arrived since 1788. For the vast majority that ancestral trace would loom (very) large. For many it would predominate. And, as is always the case, it’s at the margin where difficulties multiply.

It seems totally impractical and terribly intrusive to demand DNA evidence. But then what to do about, say, Bruce Pascoe and others who claim Aboriginal ancestry, if and when their bona fides are challenged? In any event, is there a cut off point for Aboriginality on the basis of some prescribed degree of ethnic descent? That seems terribly divisive and fraught with decimal points.

It would be good to live in an Australia in which race was inconsequential. But the Voice entirely removes that prospect. Racial politics is at its heart. In turn, this means that questions which otherwise need not be asked must be asked and answered. One of those questions, a fundamental one, is who will the Voice represent?

Again, to be clear, the Voice will not be comprised of delegates. It will be comprised of “representatives.” But representatives who don’t have to present themselves and their records to eligible voters at regular intervals; even if it were practicable, which it isn’t, to delineate the body of such voters. Quite simply, this is not an acceptable model in a liberal democratic country. Democracy was described by Winston Churchill as the least worst form of government, precisely because parliamentary representatives, and therefore governments and leaders, could be voted out.

The Voice, a racist concept within the Constitution, is a bad idea per se. Run by unelected people, it has every chance of becoming a fiefdom. That would not be a benign, never mind beneficial, addition to Australia’s national life.

39 thoughts on “No Wonder They Won’t Detail How the Voice Will Work


    If, by the ususual means, this sham goes through, are we then going to be issued with race exposing glasses? Fair dinkum, my Apartheid-O-Meter is hitting the stop posts on this wool-pull.

  • Citizen Kane says:

    Based on Langton’s recent public comments, Aboriginality is not a race (just like gender the postmodernist left now view biology as sidelined by subjective relativism) and rather a ‘cultural’ grouping. What does that mean in modern Australia. There is nothing that distinguishes aboriginals in modern Australia that isn’t largely superficial such as the concocted and onerous ‘welcome to country’ diatribe. Most Aboriginals who have been lifted out of disadvantage (as is the stated desire) live a culturally homogenous life within a modern western society. Very few, if any could live an authentic hunter-gathere existence, especially in the absence of modern aids (like the outboard on the back of the tinnie hunting turtles). It’s essentially no different to when I go fishing except I’m not allowed to target turtle. This fabricated notion of ‘cultural’ distinction even further muddies the waters of the issues Peter has raised here. How will that be determined one wonders. It would seem to be an even more sinister version of apartheid.

    • Michael says:

      But whether Langton calls it race, language, or clan, it is a total anathema for a modern, multicultural, democratic nation to enshrine in its constitution a body based on such criteria. We are individual citizens, Australians, not races, clans, or language groups.

  • RobyH says:

    The Constitution is about the creation of our government. It isn’t about creating an advisory body. If Australia puts this in the Constitution it is definitely a 3rd chamber – you cannot close it if it is corrupt, incompetent or most importantly racist and caustic to democracy.

    The Voice will have the equivalent power as the UK House of Lords. All legislation is referred and reviewed by it. The title of the “Voice” should be correctly changed to the “Blak House”

    There are 22,000 full blood Aboriginals left in Australia out of the alleged 840,000. Most people identifying are by race predominately Caucasian living within the bounds of modern Western/British civilisation. This referendum and debate is completely absurd and disgustingly racist.

    • Ian MacDougall says:

      The difference is that the UK House of Lords has real power to reject legislation coming ‘up’ to it from the ‘lower’ House of Commons. But the ‘Aboriginal Voice to Parliament’ as presently publicised will be simply an official lobby group. Well, anyone can lobby any MP already.
      In my view, it is a foot in the door move. The next envisaged development appears to be what is called ‘Treaty,’ which as I see it heads into a series of concessions by non-Aboriginal Australia to Aboriginal Australia. On the present definition of ‘Aboriginal’ those are people who have been accepted as such by an Aboriginal community.
      Would it be too much to say that a possible envisaged outcome might be the partition of Australia into two separate nations, as was done in the case of India and Pakistan on religious lines.? On that precedent, people claiming Aboriginality would be encouraged to migrate into Aboriginalia, which in time would move for independence, and be encouraged by outside parties in various ways to do so.
      That IMHO would really open a can of worms, including military treaties with likely suspects and starters.
      Roby H’s comment here is one of many excellent ones to this escellent article by Peter Smith.

    • Michael says:

      The Uluru Statement from the Heart is about creating a Constitutionally enshrined indigenous representative body and the supporting governance structures that would be a de facto government for a quasi-independent indigenous nation that would have a treaty-governed, co-governance relationship with the Commonwealth of Australia.

    • NarelleG says:


      Where do you get the 22,000 full blood figure from?

      I am reliably informed 7-8,000.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Well said, Peter.

    A provision in the Constitution that references, or rather preferences, a certain group of people, must make it beyond doubt who those people are. If the current criterion – self identification – is applied, that would open up a can of worms.

    And I do not believe the will exists to resolve this problem begore August. There are many reasons to vote against the Voice but this is the most fundamental and critical one.

    It is (or should be) a deal breaker just on its own.

  • Ceres says:

    If, as reported “they” in their arrogance could be door knocking, better not come to my place to peddle this obviously racist, gimme your money disgrace. They will get short shrift in no uncertain terms.

  • Citizen Kane says:

    The ‘No’ campaign needs to focus on one basic question- ‘ what is an Aboriginal’ or ‘what is the definition of an Aboriginal’. Just as in the gender debate and the public query of officials ‘define a woman’ throws those queried into a tail spin – watch the can of worms unravel if this one simple question forms the basis of the ‘No’ campaign.

    • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

      Therein lies the problem, one of what defines an aboriginal? The claim and recognition of aboriginality as it stands at the moment is a giant con job! Think of that nice Mr. Pascoe if in any doubt.

    • Michael says:

      So far, the ‘yes’ advocates are either ignoring this question or saying it’s a non issue because of the established three-part test: indigenous ancestry, identifies as indigenous, and accepted as such by the clan/community.

      • Citizen Kane says:

        A three part test that includes ‘Ancestry’ must by definition mean that Aboriginality has a genetic component, meaning it is a ‘Race’ as commonly understood. See how Langton’s logic (a leader within the ‘Yes’ campaign) has already been tied in knots even by the criteria of their own three-part test. This is what needs to be exposed as part of the ‘No’ campaign – Who will the voice apply to and how will this be defined / determined? The legal question of true Aboriginality is already a dogs breakfast ( exhibit A – Bruce Pascoe) and this needs a spotlight placed on it by the ‘No’ campaign. Make ‘uncle’ Bruce the Poster child of this part of the campaign – you reap what you sow.

      • Searcher says:

        Michael: “the established three-part test”

        The three-part test hardly has effective substance. It isn’t a practicable test. Courts routinely fudge it uncritically.

  • March says:

    Well said Peter. It is a truly evil concept that will divide the country. The map showing Aboriginal language groups a good indication of the Balkanisation of the country coming under the Voice.

  • pmprociv says:

    Thanks for such a clear articulation of a major, in fact insurmountable, obstacle, Peter. Assuming that about half of the original 250 tribal groups from 1788 still have descendants living remotely, that gives us ca. 100 communities needing representation; there’s no way any group would allow a neighboring rep. to speak on their behalf. And that’s just for the 20% who today live remotely — what about the remaining 80% who are scattered throughout our towns and cities, many well removed from ancestral tribal lands, and living the lives of “average” citizens? And that’s before we even consider the pseudo-neo-ATSIs, the Pascoes.

    As your correctly conclude, it will come down to the usual suspects, the professional nomenklatura, to gain possibly life-long membership of The Voice, ensuring that the status quo will remain securely unchanged. No risk of closing “The Gap”, which is an extremely powerful tool for extorting yet more funds for futile, shortlived projects.

  • Katzenjammer says:

    The Voice assembly will follow the well known Peter Principle, where those in executive positions are elected to higher positions until they reach a suitable ineffective position commensurate with their level of incompetance. That might be the saving factor – all those incompetants being removed from the organisations that deal with day to day Indigenous problems.

  • brandee says:

    Peter, What good responses you have provoked!
    ‘Citizen Kane’ suggests the No case focus on ‘what is an aboriginal’ and it should be the question but not in those words which are too soft focus. Far better methinks, when considering this second/additional vote for Aboriginal Australians, to say aboriginal DNA below quarter caste does not give eligibility. and most Australians would vigorously agree. This quarter caste limit will infuriate the Yes side and give the issue all the publicity for which the No side could hope.
    RobynH seems on common ground with an aversion to the Yes proposal for what one might well call a ‘Black House of Lords’. It is obnoxious whether spelt so or spelt more with the zeitgeist ‘Blak House of Lords’.

    • Katzenjammer says:

      Quarter inheritance could become known as the Nazi criteria – used when Nazis sent anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to concentration camps.

  • March says:

    Meanwhile in Canada….

    Three categories apply to Indians in Canada: status Indians, non-status Indians, and treaty Indians.

    A Status (or Registered) Indian is the legal identity of a First Nations person who is registered as an “Indian” under the Indian Act.

    Treaty Indians are persons who are registered under the Indian Act and can prove descent from a Band that signed a treaty.

    A non-status Indian is someone who considers themselves to be a First Nations person, or a member of a First Nation, but who the Government of Canada does not recognize as an Indian under the Indian Act, either because they are unable to prove their Indian status or have lost their status rights. Non-status Indians do not receive the same rights and benefits conferred upon status Indians under the Indian Act.

  • Aussietom says:

    The other odd concept is people complaining about being discriminated against – who actually have a white skin. And sometimes, like Michael Mansell here, blue eyes:

  • IainC says:

    An egregious and specious piece advocating Yes in the referendum was published in the Oz today. The author?
    “Professor Peter Yu is vice-president, First Nations Portfolio at the ANU. He is a member of the Referendum Working Group and the Referendum Engagement Group.”
    Every clue you need as to why attempts to help Aborigines through cultural quarantining are a dysfunctional mess is right here.
    There were twenty two references to “first nations” in the article, not one reference to “fellow Australians”. Hypothesis: anyone who uses the culturally appropriated term “first nations” has no real interest in Aboriginal advancement, just an obsession with a thoroughly discredited ideology that has no relevance to improving anybody’s lives, let alone those of Aborigines in remote settlements.
    The gap we really need to close is the empty space between activists’ ears. The solution to closing the economic gap is to abandon their destructive policies of cultural quarantining, isolation and separatism. The lessons learnt from the disastrous First Nations policies in America, which have seen Native American economic and educational statistics remain flatlining for decades, must not be maintained or advanced further here. The appropriation of that disastrous term from North America and its recent application here tells you where activists want Aborigines to end up, and all of us with a social conscience must not allow it to happen. The first step is to defeat the separatist, isolationist referendum. The second is to refer to Aborigines in inclusive terms – Aboriginal Australians, Indigenous Australians….or simply just Australians – I have a dream…..

  • Daffy says:

    I think we are panicking. I can see the Voice taking over Australia for the benefit of all. I see a Northern Power Grid based on a network of nuclear power stations across the North attracting heavy industrial development, particularly in steel, aluminum and uranium for US bullets. I see a Northern Network of high speed rail joining all the industrial and agricultural centres together. I see large port developments in Qld, NT and WA shipping completed products to SE Asia. I see great things.

    Alarm goes off, turns over…Oh. just a dream.

  • Dallas Beaufort says:

    Vote No to the Voice and the impractical applications of customary Law which propagates ownership and enslavement of Aboriginal women and children, still. It’s time that the so called Aboriginal elders stopped spinning their dreamtime ownership practices, now, which are not fit for purpose in a modern Australia..

  • thomas wallace says:

    The following statement is to be found on One Nation’s website: One Nation does not support the introduction of a ‘ Voice to Parliament ‘.
    A plain statement incapable of misrepresentation. No loopholes here. What is the Liberal Party’s position?
    What indeed? A serious suggestion has been made that each Liberal parliamentarian be allowed a conscience vote on this question. Why?? This in effect turns a Liberal member into an Independent. People who vote Liberal vote for a Party, not for a collection of people having private opinions of their own. Allowing a conscience vote is to make the individual more important than the Party. Members of Parliament can, like everyone else, express their individual beliefs at the actual referendum. The Liberal Party’s politics are based on fairly definite beliefs. By being true to these beliefs a clear public position on the Voice question could be determined, a Party one, not a non-decision based on a ‘ compromise ‘ between individuals.
    I am confident that the referendum will be carried and I am equally confident that a gigantic mess will result when a decision based on some ‘ feel good ‘ unreflecting emotionalism has to come to terms with reality. Currently there is no legal definition of who is an ‘ aborigine ‘ for the purposes of the Voice. Apparently an issue to be simply ignored. But then how could the claims of 800,000 people be examined and certified to be correct so to speak? Another fundamental issue with the Voice which by receiving no consideration only adds to the ‘ leap in the dark ‘ of the whole thing.
    But something could easily be done and that’s to require every person who obtains power via the Voice to show, not by DNA but by proven family lineage, that they have not less than 25% aboriginal ancestry. The currently despised ‘ whiteness ‘ must have some critical mass after which it has an effect, and let that mass be 75%. Whatever results from the Voice it should never become a haven for ‘ carpetbaggers ‘ seeing a good opportunity for themselves, its most probable outcome.
    The Voice referendum is of the most crucial importance. All the major parties have made known their position. Except the Liberals. Political cowardice that should be noted by their supporters and remembered.

  • NarelleG says:

    Today’s The Australian.

    Minister for Indigenous Affairs – quote:

    “I was 10 years old, in a little town called Whitton in southwestern NSW, when Australians voted in the 1967 referendum, so for the first decade of my life I wasn’t counted as part of the Australian population.”

    Why would anyone trust this person?

  • Phillip says:

    Good article Peter. The Australian people could be better served by the elimination of being over governed; instead of introducing a wasteful racist agenda into Parliament. If we could eliminate State Governments from the Constitution, then the whole country would economically benefit as a nation.
    ‘The Voice’ cannot work if it is not representative of an electorate or Nation of people by democratic elections. And then to call a group of people ‘First Nations’ people is totally misleading. As we all know the Aborigine never created a Nation rather parts of the Australian land mass was domiciled by nomadic tribes of varying languages and character who at times entertained deadly tribal warfare. I do not believe a Noongar aboriginal ever considered the welfare of a Torres Strait Islander person to be a part of his clans political structure. Similarly, I do not believe democracy of the Australian Constitution should be changed for a divisive racist implant to colour match a minority group within the Australian population.

    • Blair says:

      ” I do not believe a Noongar aboriginal ever considered the welfare of a Torres Strait Islander person to be a part of his clans political structure.”
      And headhunters from Mer (Murray Island) never considered the welfare of a Torres Strait Islander on other islands. But The Coming of the Light and colonisation of the islands changed all that

  • john.singer says:

    A great article Peter Smith that should e judged by the thoughtful responses it has provoked.
    Indeed comments that the Voice would be like creating a House of Lords are interesting, because it would have little of the reasons and most of the faults.
    The currnent sitting House of Lords has a limited number of Heritary Peers balanced by a numbr of appointed Peers for Life considering legislations already autopsied by an elected (first past the post) House of Commons (No Lords).
    What this idealogically based foolishness proposes is a Hous of Lords allowing every member, or a representative of every member, of the Household to sit whether legitimate, bastard or adopted, sitting on every thought bubble before it is presented to Parliament and armed with an Antidiscrimination Act to prevent dissent from its verdicts. Together with the right to exact “Danegeld” from every other citizen.
    The proposal is the gateway to the destruction of the only Nation to govern an entire Cotinent. It is the dream of the Communist and the epitomy of foolishness.

  • brandee says:

    Good point Katzenjammer about quarter inheritance being the Nazi criteria for a lower limit of Jewishness i.e. one Jewish grandparent.
    So we can say even the Nazis considered that less than quarter caste was not significant and required no special treatment.

  • STD says:

    Jan 16/2023 12.26pm eastern standard summer time.
    Karl Marx – the voice whisperer.

  • padraic says:

    A lot of practical common sense both in the article itself and in the above comments. Like IanC I was perturbed at the sentiments expressed in the weekend Australian article which stated, inter alia, “… the promise of a new relationship between First Nations people and the Australian nation…. “. Such a statement seems to indicate Aboriginal people belong to a separate nation different from Australia. The article also mentions that the programs of governments so far are done under “… the guise of self-determination..” which reinforces the belief for many of us that “self-determination” means just that. This and other factors like having an embassy, etc plus the obvious intense dislike of ordinary Australians and our system displayed by the activists, both Aboriginal and their non-Aboriginal supporters, is indicative of an Apartheid approach to governance, and if achieved will be the end of Australia as we know it.

  • RobyH says:

    That is a good question and I can’t source the answer. I thought it was from ABS. The answer to this question and its source of accuracy is important if anyone can help. .

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