The Voice

Whose Voice is it Anyway?

One of the early referendum campaign ads depicts a future in which various seniors brag to their apparently spellbound progeny about how they voted ‘Yes’ back in 2023. But if you’re planning to vote that way, you may not be willing to wait for such adulation. A photo of your completed postal ballot won’t linger in your friends’ Instagram feeds more than a day, and it’s déclassé to put a “History is calling” bumper sticker on the family Cayenne. Enter Our Voices from the Heart, a hefty coffee-table book from Megan Davis and Pat Anderson. Filled with pretty photographs and big text, the work appears designed to sit conspicuously in the lounges and waiting rooms of the virtuous. Kmart is offloading them for $24, about the right price point for the Secret Santa at Rio Tinto or Arnold Bloch Leibler.

It’s clear from the words at the top of the cover — “The authorised story of the community campaign that changed Australia” — that the book was conceived during happier times for the ‘Yes’ campaign. (As has been reported in the press, it was also written before the campaign decided to pretend the Uluru Statement was only one page.)

But given the urgency of indigenous disadvantage and the rarity of referendums, any insider account of the Uluru process is a welcome contribution to the historical record. Shireen Morris, who kickstarted development of the Voice concept as a Cape York Institute staffer back in 2011, published her version, Radical Heart, in 2018. But she offered only limited coverage of the Uluru process proper, telling readers that “the courageous Megan Davis and Pat Anderson … are better placed than me to tell that detail.” Last year, Davis’s account appeared in Everything You Need to Know About the Uluru Statement from the Heart, co-written with George Williams. Our Voices doesn’t add much to these, at least not intentionally.

Referendum Council member Amanda Vanstone has observed that the Voice, “rather than … arising from consultation with Indigenous Australians, … was in fact sold to them” through the Uluru process. In Our Voices, Davis and Anderson appear determined to prove her right. Both Radical Heart and Everything You Need to Know highlight the degree to which these women dominated the so-called ‘dialogues’. Davis treated attendees to a two-to-three hour civics lecture and two videos featuring herself, while Anderson provided “moral guidance” and “direction” that “settled the room”. Thomas Mayo(r) has described the former’s role in terms reminiscent of Elena Ceaușescu: “She and the team that worked with her laid the invaluable foundations for the rest of us to have our say about constitutional reform. The world is learning from Professor Davis’s intellectual brilliance.”

Leafing through the book one is struck by the omnipresence of the authors. They are pictured or prominently quoted every few pages. Almost none of the photos are captioned, and quotes from anyone other than Davis or Anderson are attributed simply to “Delegate”. Page after page of nameless, silent black faces, frozen in place behind their self-appointed leaders, leave an unsettling impression.

I would wager there’s a market for a book that collates the full Uluru Statement, the “records of meeting” from the 13 Uluru consultations, and maybe a few choice reflections from key figures. But that’s not what Our Voices is. Rather than let the records speak for themselves, the authors have produced their own one-paragraph summaries. These bear little relation to what actually occurred.

At Ross River and Brisbane, invitees considered symbolic recognition important, but the summary makes no reference to it. Criticisms of the Uluru process raised at the Sydney event have been left out. The Melbourne meeting was so fractious that it split into two groups, each publishing its own communiqué. No mention of that in Our Voices. The hastily-organised Canberra session called for reserved parliamentary seats instead of the Voice—so the event has been left out of the book altogether. Also missing is the insistence by attendees at several dialogues that the Voice either be directly elected, wield formal political power, or both.

Davis and Anderson even cut three-quarters of the 2,000-word section of the Statement headed “guiding principles”, despite the fact that this was adopted by convention delegates and appears in full in the Final Report.

The original statement included a 600-word “analysis” of the Voice, treaty and truth-telling. This was produced by the Referendum Council and “approved” by convention delegates. This is the now-notorious “reform priorities” section, from which impolitic references to a “financial” settlement that might include “a percentage of GDP” were removed. The Council also scrubbed an inconvenient paragraph on “ways that political representation could be achieved other than through the proposed constitutional Voice.”

Davis and Anderson have rewritten this section in its entirety. Where the original observed “A constitutionally entrenched Voice to Parliament was a strongly supported option across the Dialogues”, which is true, the authors claim “A constitutionally entrenched Voice to Parliament was unanimously supported across the 12 dialogues”, which is not. On “truth-telling”, the original Statement discusses a possible “truth commission” and explicitly calls for a “Makarrata Commission to supervise … truth-telling”. Davis and Anderson have since decided that truth-telling “should not take place through a ‘commission’” after all.

And what of the introductory paragraphs, what the authors now call the “one-page pitch”? Despite the fact that these words have enormous significance, the authors simply cannot help themselves, tinkering with paragraph breaks and punctuation. They even decided to remove the acknowledgement that key turns of phrase had been borrowed from Fouad Ammoun, Bill Stanner, Gough Whitlam and Galarrwuy Yunupingu. Perhaps the discovery that Ammoun’s words were originally written in praise of Mobutu Sese Seko, which I have written about in Quadrant previously, proved too embarrassing.

Many of Davis and Anderson’s changes to the Statement are probably defensible on the grounds of expediency or brevity. The campaign is ongoing: delegates committed to the Voice might forgive the authors a couple of judicious cuts if they help to amplify the ‘Yes’ message. The problem is the distinctly proprietorial attitude Davis and Anderson have taken towards a document which, we are supposed to believe, emerged from the indigenous community at large.

In a telling addition, the authors urge the proposed body to “give a voice to those not previously heard, instead of magnifying the messages of First Nations spokespeople who already have the authority to speak.” A worthy sentiment, certainly, but one absent from the original. It hints at the strong pushback ‘Yes’ campaigners are now experiencing in indigenous communities.

Like earlier accounts, Our Voices from the Heart leaves the strong impression that the only voices to rise from the Uluru process were those of Megan Davis, Pat Anderson and Noel Pearson. If that’s true, perhaps the three are entitled to rewrite the Uluru Statement as many times as they like.

Our Voices from the Heart
By Megan Davis and Pat Anderson

HarperCollins, 2023, 192 pages, $39.99

Joe Stella is a PhD candidate at Griffith University’s School of Government and International Relations


Davis, Megan. “The Long Road to Uluru – Walking Together: Truth before Justice.” Griffith Review, no. 60 (2018): 13-45.

Davis, Megan, and Pat Anderson. Our Voices from the Heart. Sydney: Harper Collins, 2023.

Davis, Megan, and George Williams. Everything You Need to Know About the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2021.

Mayor, Thomas. Finding the Heart of the Nation: The Journey of the Uluru Statement Towards Voice, Treaty and Truth. Melbourne: Hardie Grant, 2019.

Morris, Shireen. “Agreement-Making – the Need for Democratic Principles, Individual Rights and Equal Opportunities in Indigenous Australia.” Alternative Law Journal 36, no. 3 (2011): 187-93.

———. Radical Heart: Three Stories Make Us One. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2018.

Morrow, James. “A Long Way Back for Uluru Authors.” The Daily Telegraph, 4 September 2023, 2.

National Indigenous Australians Agency. “FOI/2223/016 Documents Released under Freedom of Information Act.” 2023.

Referendum Council. Final Report. Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2017.

Stella, Joe. “Mobutu, Authenticité and the Dark Heart of the Uluru Statement.” Quadrant 66, no. 10 (2022): 44-47.

Vanstone, Amanda. “Anger Will Drive Down ‘Yes’ Vote.” The Canberra Times, 17 August 2023, 39.

14 thoughts on “Whose Voice is it Anyway?

  • Ceres says:

    Kudos for reading this masterpiece so we don’t have to.
    Megan was hoisted by her own petard by confirming in this book – that the Uluṟu Statement is 15 pages long and not one page, as the esteemed PM repeats ad nauseum.
    The media actually had a bit of a field day with this as Megan was well and truly caught out. Her back-pedalling and verbal gymnastics of ‘out of context’ BS was a sight to behold.

    • mrsfarley2001 says:

      …and, despite the very best efforts of Johnny Farnham, Alan Joyce, KMart and these two well-fed & smug-looking authors, like Mr Stephen Due (see below), I am still absolutely determined to vote No.

      I can’t get over how many idiots are still claiming that the Voice referendum “has been politicised”.


  • ianl says:

    Jacinta Price’s outstanding address to the National Press Club on Wednesday received very little next-day attention from the MSM.

    Golly gee whiz, I wonder why – when using precise thrusts she only skewered every last dishonest trope from the Left. I spontaneously applauded when she said that the Prime Minister (Elbow) was not to be believed. Our despicable MSM refuses to cope with this truth telling, so it simply remains largely unreported.

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      Ianl, The Australian gave it some coverage, although the authors snidely belittled Jacinta’s status, describing her more or less as no more than Dutton’s running dog.
      The really impressive thing was that the Oz’s article attracted well over 500 comments, orders of magnitude the greatest number of comments I’ve ever seen. The overwhelming majority were favourable.
      It was a brilliant speech and it was a shame (on them) that the National Press Club didn’t give her the courtesy of equal audience capacity as it had given the Yes case.
      I’m sure they will have regretted demonstrating the total lack of class of journalists.

      • lbloveday says:

        That’s 500+ that were published – we can be pretty sure a substantial number were rejected.
        SBS/ABC gave Price seem to have given reasonable cover. I don’t read/listen/watch either, but picked up these links from those who do:

      • ianl says:

        Yes, I’m aware that her speech was more widely accessed than the MSM wished but that wasn’t a result of any fair play from them. In fact, the U-tube of her speech had our view of the audience well and truly limited to the L-NP support crowd; she was also relegated a “backroom” venue to imply reduced importance with some specious claim about repairs or whatever.

        Now today (Saturday) we see the full fleck of foam spread around the MSM in reaction. This is a common technique: refuse to publish a full and accurate report of some event, then cherry pick jibes of reply when the audience has almost no way to compare the two.

        The real issue is contained in the question: how exactly will The Voice even begin to relieve the violent misery of indigenous outback camps and small towns ? All the outraged squealing is done to avoid answering that. So dreary they are.

        • Brian Boru says:

          “The real issue is contained in the question: how exactly will The Voice even begin to relieve the violent misery of indigenous outback camps and small towns ? All the outraged squealing is done to avoid answering that. So dreary they are.”
          Exactly Ian, my conversations, even with people who are sympathetic to recognition, show they are moving to this opinion.

    • Patricia Wiltshire says:

      Yes, Ianl. And if it was reported, it was done so by being misreported in a way that indicates either a failure to comprehend meaning, due to insufficient knowledge of grammar and such things as complex sentences; or deliberate attempts to skew the words used.
      I fear for such women as Jacinta N Price whose intelligence appears to far exceed that of the unsmiling female journalists huddled together like lost sheep, seemingly bewildered by her ability to provide concise and convincing replies by the use of grammatically correct complex sentences. Last night I had to spend time trying to defend her from the results of such widespread distortions of what she actually did say.
      What could be less racist than holding up Jacinta N Price as an example of the best qualities of Australian womanhood? She is deserving of every accolade that comes her way and she has a positive message to bring to all Australians. I do fear, however, the ‘green-eyed monster that mocks the meat it feeds on’ when someone of this calibre arrives to put some others – both indigenlous and otherwise – to shame.

  • lbloveday says:

    Gave Kenny’s article in the Weekend Australian a miss, but looked at the comments.
    At that time there were 400+ published comments, the most liked had 264 likes, and the next 6 all 200+.
    Kenny, as is his wont contributed comments – 7 with a total of 24 likes from the 7, high of 5, low of 1.

  • SimonBenson says:

    Jacinta Price for PM – she may be our only hope

    • Louis Cook says:

      ‘Jacinta Price for PM – she may be our only hope’
      Sorry mate! No way!
      Senator Price is a breath of fresh air in a ‘smelly place’ – We need her doing her work for all Australians.
      As Prime Minister Senator Price would be subject to all the mendacity and crap possible heaped on her by the MSM. It would be wrong to do that to the most honest and sincere person to grace our Parliament in a long time. Senator Price is ONE person but many of us can VOTE NO for the Referendum and help her turn the tide.

  • Stephen Due says:

    There was a scattered posse of elderly white do-gooders handing out Vote Yes pamplets in our shopping centre on Saturday morning. They were a pathetic sight. Their hearts were in the right place, but they were clearly uninformed as to the issues involved. When I cheerily and loudly informed those who aproached me that I was voting No, they were nonplussed. It seemed this was not a contingency they had contemplated.
    Having read and downloaded (thank you) Frank Slater’s excellent monograph on The Voice Referendum, I am tempted to print copies off and distribute them as counter-propaganda, but something briefer (one page max) is clearly needed for that purpose. Nevertheless the full argument is important and will hopefully reach a wide audience. Meanwhile I ponder the shopping-centre phenomenon, and what might have brought it about.
    I like to call Australia ‘The Land of the People with Nothing to Do’. The Voice is a typical product of that Land. It is a pointless, partisan, expensive, emotion-driven, time-consuming, exercise (rather like attending the Grand Final only with a pseudo-moral component). Perhaps we are too well off.
    In the good old days of the colonies there were no such luxuries. Even government itself had a strictly limited budget. For the settlers the options were basically work or starve. The discovery of gold changed all that. Although the work ethic struggled on, the idea of unlimited wealth – a life of unremitting unproductive leisure interrupted only by the occasional saunter in the bush to pick up another Welcome Stranger – the Marxist’s dream – seemed to take over the nation. Today of course we still live off the proceeds of our mineral wealth, which enable us to outsource nearly all productive work to China, so that everyone becomes a tenured intellectual. This is called the Clever Country.
    From this perspective, The Voice is just another bad result of the ubiquitous moral and mental decay that results when an entire nation becomes hooked on what is essentially sit-down money.

  • James McKenzie says:

    A Yes, makes the ‘Constitution’ invalid’?

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