The Voice

Our Very Own Brexit Moment

The Voice vote has failed: in the nation, in all six states, in the Northern Territory—everywhere except the ACT. The government-proposed, establishment-endorsed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament and Executive Government, which would have enshrined an indigenous advisory body in a new chapter of Australia’s Constitution, has been roundly defeated. It will not be revived.

The referendum result wasn’t a defeat for Constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples, or for the aspirations of indigenous Australians. It was a defeat for the particular, poorly drafted, over-expansive proposed amendment that was put forward by Australia’s indigenous elite. And it was a defeat for a political class that assumed it could bully the rest of the electorate into submission.

Politically, Australia’s Voice vote resembles nothing so much as Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum. Just as with Brexit, a country’s cosmopolitan establishment and the institutions they administer demanded that the rest of the country embrace their highly cultivated but ironically parochial political preferences.

All of Australia’s peak public institutions, from universities to corporations to government entities endorsed the Voice. More than that: they took it for granted that they could (and should) campaign for a Yes vote using money that had been entrusted to them for other purposes by stakeholders to whom they owed fiduciary responsibilities.

Incredibly, the cities of Sydney and Melbourne actually used taxpayer money to advertise for a Yes vote, exploiting legal loopholes that explicitly prohibited them from supporting electoral candidates without envisioning that they might instead take political positions on Constitutional amendments.

The sense of absolute entitlement exhibited by the Yes campaign was palpable—and repulsive. They did little to hide the fact that they considered all opposition to the Voice to be motivated by ignorance, ill-will, or outright racism. Yes campaigners can only interpret their resounding defeat at the polls to mean that they live in a country that exhibits widespread hatred for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Cue post-referendum outrage on the model of Brexit.

Yet everyone who is active in Australian intellectual life desires meaningful progress for indigenous people. Everyone wants lower rates of incarceration and higher rates of employment for indigenous youth. Everyone wants to see more indigenous university graduates. Everyone wants to see reductions in domestic violence in indigenous communities. Everyone wants to “close the gap” in indigenous life expectancy. The only disagreement is on how to best accomplish these goals, not over the goals themselves.

Unfortunately, the highly-educated urban professionals who form the core of the Yes vote believe not only that their preferred solutions are the correct ones, but that theirs are the only moral ones. They openly disdain the opinions of those who live outside the urban cores of the capital cities, who lack advanced university degrees, or who are too world-wise (read: elderly) to be fooled by facile quick-fix policy rhetoric.

Look at the geographical distribution of the Voice vote, and the Brexit analogy is clear. The Voice won inner Sydney but lost the rest of New South Wales. It won inner Melbourne but lost the rest of Victoria. It won Brisbane but lost Queensland, won Adelaide but lost South Australia, won Perth and Freemantle but lost Western Australia, won Hobart but lost Tasmania. The Yes campaign did not prevail in a single electorate outside the centres of Australia’s capital cities.

The ACT, where the Voice won on a margin of more than 60 per cent, provides a snapshot of the Voice demographic. It’s a place where more than 40 per cent of the workforce works directly for the government, and most of the rest are government contractors, university academics, or university students. That’s the Yes vote in a nutshell. It’s also the core Labor vote.

That leaves it up to the Liberal Party to decide whether it wants to bid to regain its old Teal bastions, or choose instead to represent majority Australia. It’s the same challenge the British Conservatives faced after Brexit. Like their Conservative cousins, the Liberals may decide that the hoi polloi have nowhere else to go. If they do, they will (like their Conservative cousins) discover that they are wrong.

The floating vote is a fickle vote. If the policy choices they want are taken off the table, their votes will swing wildly between what they perceive to be undifferentiated alternatives — or they will seek out maverick third parties.

Australia went overwhelmingly for No on the Voice referendum, but only the Nationals have promised not to legislate an alternative Voice. Both the Liberals and Labor seem to be fixated instead on vying for the votes of a narrow metropolitan elite.

That is perhaps natural, considering that that’s where the majority of their politicos were born, bred, and wed. But it leaves 60 per cent of Australia up for grabs. The Nationals will capture part of it, but they will never become the default party of the outer suburbs.

The key question for the future of Australian politics is thus: does anyone want to represent the majority of the country? Obviously, Labor and the Libs want the seats. But do they want to genuinely represent the people who live in them by offering policy options that fall outside the historical Lab-Lib leadership consensus on how Australia should be governed?

In the wake of Saturday’s referendum results, the only clear answer to that question is: “No”.

Salvatore Babones is an associate professor at the University of Sydney.


38 thoughts on “Our Very Own Brexit Moment

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Well said, Salvatore.

    When I was on how tote duty yesterday, one of the Yes campaigners asked me very politely to explain why I supported No. She genuinely wanted to know she told me, the implication being how could someone like me possibly hold that view.
    I commenced to explain about the Constitution and she told me “I don’t when the Constitution came into effect 1920 or 1930 but it based on terra nullius and it was as if Aborigines didn’t exist'”. I gave ger some facts about Aboriginal voting, which she rejected, and suggested she should read the Constitution. We left it there and next minute she was busy consulting her phone, no doubt googling her trusted source to check my claims. I doubt her sources would given her anything that supported my points

  • Salvatore Babones says:

    Thanks for reading — and for the story!

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    I am always amused when people describe the citizenry of the ACT (where I have lived and worked for nearly 50 years) as being “highly educated”. My sons are both graduates of the ANU, and my granddaughter is well on the way. In my employment, I supervised ANU and other graduates and very quickly learnt that I came out of high school at age 16 better educated than many of these graduates in terms of practical skills and written communication ability.
    As is obvious from the standards of modern public debate, people seem to no longer consider rational argument as important as demonstrating their emotional attachment to any particular position.
    The Yes case on the Voice was pure and unadulterated emotionalism. As losers of the debate, its proponents will “feel” the loss very deeply without being capable of reasoning why.
    Very sad. They’ll come again, and again. Like fanatics everywhere, they are relentless and insatiable.

    • Salvatore Babones says:

      Well, education may not be wisdom, but it is education!

    • Stephen Due says:

      Yes DT – but you know what emotion-driven people do when they cannot win a debate using rational argument! They immediately start reaching for the big stick of censorship. New laws will compel online platforms like YouTube to proactively censor contributors who effectively disagree with key government policies (such as those on Covid – use of masks, genetic ‘vaccines’, social distancing, ‘testing’, contact tracing etc – which could not be defended in open debate because they were unsupported by evidence).
      The next step is to ban other forms of protest, in addition to media communications. This is done partly by banning assemblies and marches (on health grounds, of course). In addition, corporations are being encouraged to assist the government by de-banking anyone who expresses the wrong opinions in the media or attends protests. Russell Brand has reported that de-banking in Canada is rapidly gaining momentum, but is not being reported in the MSM. Australian banks have instituted revised policies that facilitate de-banking of people who might use their personal or corporate accounts to do things the banks disagree with (such as promoting the truth about the useless and dangerous Covid jabs).
      If The Voice proves anything it is the unbounded self-righteous arrogance of those in corporations and in government. Current trends indicate that the emotional commitment of these people to the cause of the downtrodden Aborigine does not extend to those they disagree with in public debate on that or any other issue. Furthermore, they have zero emotional commitment to the basic principles of a free society, including freedom of speech and assembly. Since that’s the only kind of commitment they seem to be capable of, the future does not look good for democracy in Australia.

      • lbloveday says:

        “.. the future does not look good for democracy in Australia”
        To me, the future does not look good for Australia. Full stop.
        Someone who quit his tenured, superannuated tertiary teaching position at 48 to become a gambler, is hardly a pessimist, but I can feel no optimism about Australia’s future:
        “I have no fear of death, it brings no sorrow”.

    • Carlos says:

      To Doubting Thomas: I’ve had the same thoughts myself, the rise and rise of ‘credentialism,’ it’s an epidemic. Have you noticed the advanced academic credentials of many in the aboriginal industry. Not one in the STEM fields, all in the social sciences and humanities. In sort, BS qualifications in made up fields. Peer reviewed of course. Marcia Langton’s field is anthropology but she’s endorsed Prof Pascoes’ oxymoronic, ‘indigenous agriculture.’ Need I say more.

    • mrsfarley2001 says:

      To Mr Thomas and Mr Babones – anyone who has been involved with the so-called higher echelons of Australia’s left-wing education industry is, unless taught critical thinking from an early age @home, not “educated” but thoroughly “indoctrinated” in the boilerplate left-wing lies which form the prevailing orthodoxy. The more “education” you receive, the more stultified becomes any ability you originally had to reason & think for yourself. This explains much of Australian politics: Teal group-think, the Aborigine industry, Canberra and all the fungus-like bureaucracies filled with university graduates, which blight the lives of ordinary folk like me.

  • call it out says:

    The City of Mitcham in SA voted to contribute $40,000 to the YES campaign, but was forced to rescind the motion after a rate[ayer backlash.
    What a waste of money that would have been. But they were saved by their level headed constituents. Oh well, on to the next woke crusade.

  • Occidental says:

    It is interesting how the political advisors of both parties (but particularly Labor) were, to a large degree out of touch with middle Australia. With regards the conservatives it took a reasonable amount of time for them to formulate an opposition to the amendment. Presumably they did their usual internal polling and realised that that they could venture a little further out on the branch. Also the appearance of Jacinta Price on the scene must have helped timorous conservatives. But to the nub of the article, how do we get rid of public servants, what a blight they are on the polity. Where as the welfare recipient knows that he relies on the public’s good will, the bureaucrat believes the public rely on his or her goodwill. Not only are they a class of derivative thinkers, if thinkers at all, but they clog the mechanics of the market and are the source of almost every non sensical brain fart that comes from the legislature. The answer lies in repealing legislation. Repeal a couple of hundred acts, and you can send thousands of bureaucrats home on full pay, atleast they will do less harm to the economy.

  • ianl says:

    >”In the wake of Saturday’s referendum results, the only clear answer to that question is: “No”< [from Salvatore B's article above]

    Twas ever so.

    An even clearer answer is seen in the ALP's deliberate disdain for Jacinta Price and will be seen, I contend, in the way she will now be treated by the city-centric sections of the LNP as her immediate use (for them) is over.

    She is bright, astute and articulate with it in understanding the depths and has an integrity that almost no politician or MSM denizen can ever come near. In a quite long life, I can only remember one or two politicians that have come close to this. She presents a real threat to them. I genuinely hope she survives, thrives and eventually has a real shot at the top job.

    As for the MSM, until their reaction to this NO vote, I hadn't quite found the most accurate descriptive word for them. Now it's obvious – most are truly *spiteful*.

    • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

      Cometh the hour, cometh the woman in this case, and one fondly hopes that the LNP back her to the hilt for the rest of her political career and thus will have someone who will go to bat for all of us as needed for she appears to have that value very few politicians have, integrity. When missionaries ran the missions, now “communities” the people had direction and produced people like Noel Pearson (like him or not) but now the people have no direction, the kids run wild, get hauled off to correctional centres and learn to be hardened crims. The State Governments, at least the Qld. one tries to keep a lid about info on riots in places like Aurukun and I have no doubt that other State Governments do exactly the same, and believe it or not stuff like Vegemite or anything with yeast in it that can be used as a base to make a home brew of alcohol is banned in the “communities!” That cannot continue so one of two things must happen, the aboriginals have to take responsibility for their own sake and lift themselves out of their situation, OR Noel Pearson and Linda Burney et al must Messiah like, lead their kind out to be useful citizens. The third thing that could happen of course is that we leave the people to their own devices and allow them to wipe themselves out with alcohol, violence and murder for we have tried just about everything else to help them and it hasn’t worked.

  • Brian Boru says:

    There is nobody in our country who does not want the dysfunction and misery in aboriginal remote communities to end.
    We have to “Recognise a Better Way”. All children must go to school and be led into seeing that integration into the economic life of Australia is the only proven way to close the gap.

  • cbattle1 says:

    If we could drag the elites of the Aboriginal industry into those communities where the gap is greatest, and make them live there for a year or so, the same as the locals and without benefit of their generous salaries, then they could understand what the causes of the problems are.

    • Roger Franklin says:

      Better yet, let’s move the bureaucrats to, say, Ceduna or, better still, Yuendumu.

      • lbloveday says:

        As a younger man I rode to Ceduna on my Honda 900 Bol D’or, so I checked out Wikipedia for an update and read “The name Ceduna is a corruption of the local Aboriginal Wirangu word Chedoona and is said to mean a place to sit down and rest”.

      • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

        Pannawonika in WA or even Heard Island would be better. I petitioned the Govt. many times to have the ABC and SBS transferred there holus bolus but my pleas went unanswered. Both places would prosper from the infusion of both money and ideas plus the ABC staff could enjoy urban living first hand, and in this case so too the Aboriginal elites could impart a new way of life to the local inhabitants.

  • john.singer says:

    The Teal seats in Sydney were never blue ribbon Liberal seats. I was raised in Wentworth when the local Member was the Deputy Leader of the Menzies Liberals. But the electorate was not mainly wealthy home owners but TENANTS. The slide into urban dogmatism and eventually into “Simon-says Tealism” began with the pre-selection of Malcolm Turnbull.

  • Phillip says:

    I understood Fremantle said NO and Adelaide is 50/50.

    On another matter, I was hoping the mechanisms of our Constitution would have an instrument which allows the Australian Governor General to say,
    “Dear Mr Prime Minister, Anthony my boy,
    Now that you are guilty of wasting $400M of our limited savings and you’ve created, promoted and driven hatred, racism in our society you will resign. Furthermore as the electorate has categorically rejected your policy of apartheid, you nor any other government in Australia has no authority to legislate for un-democratic programs.
    And Anthony, just as a small piece of encouragement as you mop up your tears, there is a big country out there with a good wealth of genuine people working to honest values of respect. I encourage you to work for them and you will see a brighter side of life.
    All the best Anthony,

    Unfortunately the GG is silent and I do not believe Anthony has the focus or skill to dig Australia out of the hole he created…more likely he will blame the weather rather than pay any respect to the wider community.

  • Alistair says:

    The way I see this is that it is a small victory in a minor battle. We can enjoy for the moment – but on the larger scale I see this as simply representing the beginning of the end. It was a test of strength by our betters – and they failed. What happened was that they tried to re-write the Australian Constitution using the traditional standard democratic and legal avenues … and failed. I believe that this now marks the complete separation of our know-everything elites from the general voting public who they now know cannot be trusted to follow the preferred narrative and they will now abandon all pretense at democratic government and just go for broke to institute their will. Starting with the “Misinformation – disinformation” Bill Its going to be a horror with real teeth to punish any opposition to the elite’s agenda.

    Enjoy the moment – but the real battle is only just beginning.

    • Peter OBrien says:

      I agree Alastair

      • Jessie says:

        Peter and Alistair, I thank you and agree whole-heartedly.

        And Salvatore, thank you for your pertinent article. Following our own recent BREXIT, most certainly is the ‘International Federation of UN Indigenous’ planning further strategies during their week of mourning. One can only hope ‘the scabs’ are stepping up in their absence of their 7 days or is that 5 days loss of labour? Culturally-specific Industrial Awards should cover that loss to the economy and humanitarian efforts.

        I trust QUADRANT will pen a paper on the Darwin Port and northern frontier, perhaps Larrakeyah intertidal zone or Chinese leased, and the recent incursion by the latter into Timor and the potentially the gas fields.

      • Greg Jeffs says:

        The real battle indeed. The lawyers in the High Court pushed through the Mabo case using existing (Labor party) legislation as a hammer. Success in the Voice referendum would have given them an almighty boost. There is still ‘international’ law, treaties, the UN and many other avenues of attack. They won’t be quiet for long.

  • ianl says:

    My earlier forecast of the YES vote getting up was very clearly quite wrong. Re-appraising it, the error was in not allowing for the simplicity of the vote choice – just Yes, No, Invalid.

    No 2PP, no minor party choices, no above/below the line and other complications. So my mistrust of polling using small samples, with valid demographic representation relying on guesswork, was manifestly inadequate.

  • Solo says:

    I think the phrase “close the gap” should be changed. Close the gap implies someone else will be closing it for the people the gap applies to. I say we change it to “get on board”. It then implies someone has to do something to go somewhere else, and that’s exactly what Aboriginal Australia needs to do to progress in the modern world.

  • Paul from Sydney says:

    Matthew Goodwin has carefully analysed the political landscape of the UK post-Brexit and his assessment could be almost exactly translated to this referendum: the ‘new elite’ of the managerial-professional class trying to impose its will and values on the rest and then claiming ignorance and misinformation when the rest reject their agenda. Exactly what we are seeing. Like Salvatore his question is who will represent them?

  • IainC says:

    I was half-afraid that the Australian working class propensity to answer every question by beginning “yeah, nah, yeah” would invalid many ballots and result in a technical win for Yes, but thankfully it didn’t seem to be a factor.
    My Top Picks for why the Yes case was utterly and deservedly thrashed:
    Reactionary, rear view mirror proposal;
    Racist intent;
    Separatist outcomes of last 30y perpetuated;
    Elitist in all aspects;
    Guaranteed not to work for Aborigines in need (20% of the 3.2%);
    Guaranteed to cause major problems for non-Aborigines (96.8% of us);
    Unnecessary to be in the Constitution at all.

  • Twyford Hall says:

    The only losers from the referendum were the inner-city elites and Aboriginal activists that Salvatore was talking about. Everyone else, including Aboriginal people, will be no worse off and things may even improve.

  • norsaint says:

    “”highly-educated urban professionals “”
    aka over-educated idiots.

  • jnr2 says:

    We went to a NO vote rally Hyde Park , a few weeks age,- middle of Sydney – attending were quite a large group of Aboriginal People that had travelled 1000 km (not by air) to attend.
    They addressed us ,asking to vote NO – wonder what that says about PM s ideas.
    Wife and I volunteered polling day – the YES people were not always respectful in their comments – entitled I suppose.
    Salvatore – thank for this well thought out article ❗️

  • Qtomcie says:

    Thank you, Salvatore Babones. I think that the “No” margin would have been higher if the distinction between “recognition” and the vehicle for achieving it – “the voice” – were highlighted more clearly. As one commentator to these pages (Tony Tea, I think) put it along the lines that there was dishonest conflation of the two and the government tried to “smuggle in” the voice with its problematic baggage.

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