If one thing is certain in terms of the Voice, most Australians don’t really understand what it means, how it will work, what it will cost and how it will be set up. The reason for this widespread ignorance is because the Albanese government has declined to explain such critical factors in anything resembling clear and coherent detail. Who in their right mind would sign on for anything on the basis of ‘Trust us, we’re from the government. You don’t need to worry about any of that’?
Trust, eh? As the government is dragging its heels in regard to Section 11 of the Referendums Act, which requires the Australian Electoral Commission to distribute a pamphlet with written arguments both for and against the passage of the referendum, trust is hard come by. This pamphlet, to be of no more than 2000 words, must be delivered to each Australian household with an enrolled elector no later than 14 days before polling day.
Clearly, the government still has time to create and distribute said pamphlet, which we can expect to arrive only after Australians have been battered for months with the guilt-waddy of slick ads and promotions. Nominally non-partisan TV ads, which are anything but, have been screening for weeks now. As Sky’s James Morrow explains in the clip below, the strategy is to pitch the Yes case by means of stealth and emotionally charged imagery.
The reason they can get away with this is that the Referendums Act is hardly what it once was. As the parliamentary library explains (emphasis added):
The Act [allowed] the Commonwealth to only spend money in relation to preparing and distributing the pamphlets and prohibits any Government-funded referendum education campaign or advertising. However, in 1999 the Government legislated to allow additional expenditure, such as for advertising, in relation to that specific referendum, and the recent history of public funding of referendum campaigns has been relatively ad hoc.
The Government recently amended the Act to clarify that the Government is not prevented from ‘expending money in relation to neutral public civics education and awareness activities’ (subsection 11(6)) but that campaign ‘must not address the arguments for or against a proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution’ (subsection 11(7)).
So, the public is presented with an ostensibly ‘neutral’ campaign that is subtly pro-Yes,. This hardly seems right, let alone fair, and it also means most voters will rely by default on what coverage the media is offering. Unfortunately, in the realm of mainstream media, with some noble exceptions, there is much more promoting of a Yes vote than the No case. If you doubt that, spend a little time with the ABC and all will be made clear.
Given the lack of clarity on the Voice, its structure, function and powers, there is little basis for the average Australian to gain a reasoned perspective. Can it solve the problems besetting Aboriginal communities? Dozens if not hundreds of bodies and groups, any number of consultatants, billions of dollars and decades of time and attention have failed, so why would a Voice be any different? How many live in such communities? A small minority.
Based on projections for 2022, among Indigenous Australians: 38% (344,800) live in Major cities. 44% (395,900) live in Inner and outer regional areas. 17% (155,600) live in Remote and very remote areas combined
The Yes camp suggests Australians owe those with Aboriginal ancestry special treatment because their bloodlines go back 40,000+ years, which makes them both unique and deserving of their own third chamber, as Tony Abbott has described it. And bear in mind, too, that Voice representatives will be appointed, not democratically elected. How is any of that fair, constitutional, not racist? The basic and animating premise of rights conferred by longevity of ancestry is that the further back it goes, the more superior is the individual’s quality of citizenship — so much so that unique and special rights are warranted. Appraised logically, this means someone with or claiming, a la Bruce Pascoe, Aboriginal ancestry is top-ranked while a newly naturalised migrant is on the bottom rung. None of this is democratic and all of it an insult to Australians in general and migrants and the children of migrants in particular.
We also have the insanity that someone like Senator Jacinta Price, if the Voice gets up, is a superior citizen along with her mother and her sons, while her white father and white husband are inferior citizens despite all living and sharing the same lives.
Would a Yes victory mean that in divorce situations the parent with some Aboriginal ancestry gets greater rights over any children? It may well because, quite deliberately on the part of Albanese & Co, nothing has been spelled out. It is an important question because most Australians with Aboriginal ancestry are in mixed marriages. In fact, we have more than two centuries of intermarriage, which is why most Australians with Aboriginal ancestry are more Anglo-European than anything else. This fact alone is a testament to the lack of racism in Australia. As The Guardian reported
Analysis of the 2006 census reveals that 52% of Aboriginal men and 55% of Aboriginal women were married to non-Aboriginal Australians. In Australia’s larger east coast cities, the intermarriage rate was well above 70%; in Sydney, as many as nine out of 10 university-educated Aborigines had a non-indigenous partner.
We know the majority of Australians with Aboriginal ancestry, now said to number some 900,000, a figure that includes self-identifiers with truly trivial Aboriginal ancestry, are doing fine. Most lead the same sort of lives and experience the same outcomes as other Australians; they have absolutely nothing in common with those struggling in tribal/clan communities, where the least assimilated remain trapped. As to the urban elites, anyone who thinks Linda Burney, Marcia Langton, Ken Wyatt, Lidia Thorpe or Noel Pearson lives the same life as those in remote communities needs to think again.
The notion that a Voice will be able to speak for Aborigines as a whole — for those in remote communities and the indigenous elite alike — is absurd. Consider, for example, how no single voice now speaks, or could ever speak, for Aborigines elected to parliament. What common ground exists for Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Lidia Thorpe? We don’t have one voice speaking for each Aboriginal community, and it is certain we will never hear a single voice for all communities, let alone one for every individual Australian who has proclaimed their indigeneity via the simple expedient of ticking a census-form box. And yet we are being asked to change our Constitution, betray our democracy and formally accept legislated racism by voting for a concept which does not exist and never can exist. How could it? In 1788 there were between 350 and 500 different groups, most not big enough to be called tribes, let alone ‘nations’; rather, they were family groups lacking a common language and frequently at war. Divided then and divided now, yet somehow, we are told, the Voice will foster unity and common purpose. This is where unjustified optimism becomes full-blown delusion.
In Aboriginal communities the clans are still at war with each other and, as Noel Pearson recently demonstrated with his attack on Mick Gooda, there is infighting even amongst the elites. If the urban Aborigine Lites can’t agree with each other, what hope is there?
Meanwhile, with nothing clarified or spelled out in terms of this Voice, Australians can only sift the propaganda and snippets of information, apply common sense and try to avoid making a serious error of judgement which our children and grandchildren will inherit to their terrible cost.
When the Constitution and our democracy are at stake, a trusting, unfussed and unquestioning ‘She’ll be right, mate’ just doesn’t cut it.