The Voice

Obscure and Confused Notions of Aboriginality

A pragmatic argument against the entrenchment of the Voice in the Constitution concerns the inability, or unwillingness, of its proponents to define ‘Aboriginality’. Indeed, as the Voice is to consist of appointed ‘Aboriginal’ members, it becomes necessary to define the concept.

In reality, there is utter confusion as to who is to be regarded as  ‘Aboriginal’, how the twenty-four members of the Voice will be chosen, and what the powers of that ‘advisory’ body will be. Indeed, in Australia ‘Aboriginality’ seems to have developed into an amorphous, undefinable concept that has steadily been expanded to cover cultural traits that are different from the mainstream population. It has become an obscure and confused notion, an empty vessel the details of which need to be filled in by politicians, policymakers, and trendsetters. To this purpose, Senator Pauline Hanson attempted to introduce a bill, which would have clarified and changed the process of identifying as an ‘Indigenous’ person, but the majority of senators disallowed discussion of the bill.[1]

A definition, proposed in the 1980s, appears to be in the most use: An Aboriginal is a person of Aboriginal descent, who identifies as Aboriginal, and is accepted as such by the community in which they live.

The first part of this three-part definition requires a person to be of Aboriginal descent. However, this part does not stipulate the required percentage of ‘Aboriginality’ needed to prove a person’s Indigenous ancestry. In any event, satisfying this part has become increasingly difficult because of rhe 235 years of inter-marriage, which has steadily decreased the percentage of the ‘Aboriginal’ pool of genes and, consequently, it has eviscerated the concept of ‘Aboriginal’ descent.

The second part of the definition – self-identification – is a meaningless part of the test, amenable to corruptly and falsely claiming Indigenous heritage. The third part, community recognition, is not an objectively verifiable part of the definition and could easily be manipulated for political gain. Yet, the definition has been adopted by federal government departments for the purpose of determining access to Aboriginal-only services and benefits. In 1983, in Commonwealth v Tasmania (The Tasmanian Dam Case), Justice Deane of the High Court also used this definition when he said that “By ‘Australian Aboriginal’ I mean …a person of Aboriginal descent, albeit mixed, who identifies himself as such and who is recognized by the Aboriginal community as an Aboriginal.”[2]

Some 870,000 people claimed on the 2021 census to be Aboriginal (3.2 per cent of the population), while there were only 106,000 in 1962 (approximately 1 per cent of the population of 10,742,291). In this context, Quadrant‘s Salvatore Babones, writing on the latest ABS statistics, comments that “Australia’s indigenous population increased by 73 per cent between the 2011 and 2021 censuses, implying a compound annual population growth rate of 5.6 per cent.”[3] This means that more and more people seek to trace their ancestry to an Aboriginal person under the first part of the definition and self-identify as Aboriginal under the second part of the definition. Some people may falsely self-identify as ‘Aboriginal’ to access benefits, which are only available to Aboriginals.  There is also anecdotal evidence that devious people might falsely self-identify as ‘Aboriginal’ to protest what they perceive is the growth of the ‘First Nations’ industry in Australia.

Nevertheless, the growth figure, mentioned by Babones, is astounding, and certainly surprising in view of the elevated level of migration to Australia in the period between 2011 and 2021 which, presumably, would have lowered the percentage of Aboriginals in Australian society overall. But Babbones claims that “If current trends continue, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Australia will overtake that of Australia as a whole within eighty years—at which point, everyone will be indigenous (and then some). That’s true even after accounting for Labor’s post-election decision to boost immigration after all. Big Australia will not be multicultural. It will be indigenous.”[4] Of course, Babones’ modelling may well be wrong because it never tends to develop exactly as the experts predict. This is illustrated by initial claims, supported by modelling, that the COVID-19 pandemic would result in the death of 150,000 people – a claim which proved to be an irresponsible exaggeration.

Babones has offered a compelling argument against the proposed entrenchment of the Voice in the Constitution. Indeed, if the predicted results of his modelling were to be correct, it would be useless, even irresponsible, to entrench the Voice in the Constitution because it would merely become a body that represent all (or most) of Australia and hence would effectively duplicate the work of the parliament. In this scenario, the Voice would operate as a shadow parliament that potentially or actually frustrates the legislative agenda of the parliament.

The ABS statistics provide another insight that makes the Voice a suspect proposal. In 2021, more than seven million people in Australia were born overseas. This represents approximately 30 per cent of Australia’s population, compared to 26 per cent in 2016. In addition, 49 per cent of Australians have a parent born overseas. Surely, their ancestors cannot have participated in discriminatory, Aboriginal-unfriendly practices of the past. Not only have they or their ancestors nothing to do with the settlement of Australia by the British in 1788, but these migrants  were lured to Australia because of its perceived commitment to freedom of thought, a free press, and equality of opportunity – a country that implements the principle of ‘political equality’ and ‘equal citizenship’. In these circumstances, why would they vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum?

The conclusion, that the demographics of Australia do not favour the proposed entrenchment of the Voice in the Constitution, is unavoidable and compelling.

Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (2020) and “The Coincidence” (2021)

[1] Brittany Chain, ‘Pauline Hanson is brutally shut down when she attempts to introduce a Bill to Parliament to tighten up who can identify as Aboriginal: ‘Things could get messy’, Daily Mail, 11 May 2023, available at

[2] 158 CLR 1 (1983).

[3] Salvatore Babones, ‘The Handy Malleability of Malinformation’, Quadrant Online, 7 July 2023, available at

[4] Ibid.

13 thoughts on “Obscure and Confused Notions of Aboriginality


    Claiming to have roots in a Stone Age, largely hardscrabble culture that was stuck in the same groove for tens of thousands of years is hardly a recommendation for the reality of modern life. However the mush sentimentality invoking noble savage delusions lends itself to the hubris of racial glamour snobbery.

  • Paul W says:

    It’s much easier to claim royal blood than to act like a king. But I don’t know how they became royal in the first place. Did the end of the British Empire leave a gap into which all the Aborigines and Multiculturals rushed? If so why? Why was Australia unable to develop a new, independent identity, as it seemed to me that we were doing?

    • pmprociv says:

      And, if we could look back far enough, but well within the last millennium, we’d find that just about everyone has a royal ancestor! Each one of us should be treated like royalty . . .

  • brandee says:

    A quick glance at the freely available small booklet [pocket edition] called Australia’s Constitution will reveal that there is no obvious space to recognise Indigenous Aboriginal Australians. Recognition in a preamble was previously rejected and now it seems that any recognition without an ambit claim for hereditary power within the document is insufficient.

    The constitution is a document that unites Australia’s six pre-existing states into a Commonwealth. The Commonwealth document could be likened to a marriage certificate or a pre-nuptial agreement between self governing states. The document has nowhere for any social or hereditary group to be mentioned. Maybe they should try for a mention in the constitution of each state but of course overriding Commonwealth power is the goal.

  • Stephen Due says:

    This is so obviously a power-grab and nothing more. The inability for the proponents to say how it will work or even how the members will be chosen is a dead giveaway. It is too easy, given the general absence of intellect in the parliament, to assume that grossly inadequate proposals like this one are due to stupidity. Australians should beware, because there are signs of machinations behind the Voice. This is a serious matter. This is not about feelings or reconciliation or even justice – this is about subverting our constitution.

  • call it out says:

    Being indigenous is, for many, largely a state of mind.

  • Tony Tea says:

    Any word on whether South Australia are still changing the law to enable its AG to pass for aboriginal?

  • pmprociv says:

    If the definition of “Aboriginal” is already so fluffy and contentious, what are we to make of “and who is recognized by the Aboriginal community?” Who comprises such a community, and what should be its size? Should it be allowed to charge a fee for the service of recognition? A great time to be a lawyer . . .

  • peterba1574 says:

    To this Australian, the definition is an absolute essential requirement prior to ANY progress towards “The Voice” – whether one be a supporter or otherwise.
    WHAT ? – IS an Aborigine ??
    Given the capacity for an individual to be one 1 – 512th – or greater – and to “claim” that one is an aborigine makes a mockery of any attempt to constitutionally “recognise” just what constitutes the community of Australia “The Voice” speaks to.

  • John Daniels says:

    So if there is no lower limitation to the proportion of your ancestry that is Aboriginal to be considered an Aboriginal then the children of any one that has any Aboriginal Ancestry at all , no matter how small will have children that can be considered Aboriginal no matter what is the ancestry of the other parent .

    So being Aboriginal then becomes only a matter of self identification and acceptance of of that self identification by other Aboriginals .

    No wonder the number of Aboriginals identifying as such in the census is increasing at such a fast pace .

    It is highly likely that the Aboriginal population has a higher proportion of the genes of the Whites that committed the worst of the crimes against Aboriginals during early settlement than the non Aboriginal population .
    It is some what ironical how the least amount of Aboriginality wipes clean the sins of the fathers .

  • jim brough says:

    Remember the big kerfuffle which in Britain ended what was called the Divine Right of Kings long before the American and French Revolutions.
    The Voice would take us back to rule by heredity, not quality.

  • Watchman Williams says:

    Clearly, if one is to follow the current cultural trend of casting “feelings” as reality, then an aborigine is one who feels like an aborigine, irrespective of whether he or she has any aboriginal blood or ancestors. This is consistent with the notion that if a woman “feels” like a man, then she is entitled to be regarded as a man, even to the extent of having the biological gender on her birth certificate altered to give effect to her “feelings”.
    If the Voice gets up, I confidently predict that Australia will wake up to the fact that a majority of its citizens will be aborigines.
    Professor Pascoe will be pleased to find he has so many new tribal brethren.

  • loweprof says:

    Why don’t we all just “do a Pascoe” and simply identify as aboriginal? Problem solved.

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