After a deal of consideration and prayer, I will be voting “No” in the upcoming referendum about a “Voice to Parliament” (Voice).
It’s not a decision I’ve arrived at lightly. Let me outline some of the reasons behind my decision:
- The idea of a Voice that advances the ideas or aspirations of one (small) portion of the population without allowing all other members of society the same opportunity is inherently racist. If aboriginal people have a separate Voice to the federal parliament and executive government then why not any and all other groups? This seeks to divide the nation and promote the interests of one group over all others.
- I do not believe the federal government is serious about meeting the needs of the poor or disenfranchised. If the federal government was genuinely interested in seeking to remedy issues faced by aboriginal people then they have wasted the past 15 months since their election. The government already has effective and fully funded aboriginal voices in parliament. I understand there is something like eleven current members of parliament who are of aboriginal descent. The government could form a bipartisan subcommittee of these members to consult and advise on aboriginal issues. A genuine, elected Voice is only a parliamentary subcommittee away.
- There is a federal department called the National Indigenous Australians Agency whose role is “committed to implementing the Government’s policies and programs to improve the lives of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”1. As I understand it, the federal government currently pays something like $35 billion for assistance to aboriginal people. This is in addition to society-wide services. If the gap between health and educational outcomes is so wide between aboriginal people and others, how about an audit of the $35 billon currently being spent to determine if those funds are (a) being spent in accordance with their funding agreements; (b) achieving the outcomes that should have been indicated in these agreements. What’s the bet that billions are being wasted on duplicate administration, greedy lobbyists, ineffective programs, and lining the pockets of middlemen (and women)?
- As I understand aboriginal culture, no one mob can speak for another. If that is the case then how can a Voice comprising 24 people possibly represent or lobby effectively and appropriately for the hundreds of mobs around Australia? It would be the equivalent of asking all local councils in Australia to elect 24 representatives who will make decisions and representations to federal and state governments concerning funding, priorities and services for all LGAs. It is in no way conceivable that the 500+ local councils would receive fair representation because each LGA is different in terms of perceived needs, demographics, aspirations, socioeconomic base and future outcomes. Local issues need to be understood and dealt with on a local level.
- Whether or not you believe the Uluru Statement from the Heart is one page or 26, the 26 pages surely provide insight into how the Voice would seek to advise parliament and the executive government on matters that affect aboriginal people. It is clear that both a treaty and financial reparations will be on the agenda.
- I believe and understand that the government has expressed sorrow for its past actions towards aboriginal people. Equally, the government has extended a hand towards reconciliation. These measures need to be accepted and forgiveness granted for us to move forward as a nation. Continually being made to indicate if you feel sorry for events in the past will never lead to healing. Forgiveness sought and granted is the only way that progress towards one nation can be achieved. A Voice, treaties, reparations and “truth-telling” will only continue to tear at the wounds of the past.
- Finally, a society will never achieve equality of opportunity by mandating inequality in its founding document.