Giving Voice to the Wrong Question

Antony Barraclough

The laws that affect all Australians are voted in by two bodies – the House of Representatives and the Senate – and both must agree to the laws. Each electorate in Australia gets a 1-in-151 say in the vote of the House of Representatives, and each state gets a 12-in-76 say in the vote of the Senate.  Territories, with their small populations, get a 2-in-76 say in the Senate vote. Although not perfect, the process ensures that different groups in the community can elect people to represent them, and that politicians generally try to seek balanced outcomes.

The proposed Aboriginal Voice to Parliament will become an additional gatekeeper in that process, representing only the interests of Aboriginals and Aboriginal activists. It will be like having a lobby group from the mining industry or the tech industry approving and rejecting legislation. The potential for rorting, corruption and fatal damage to our democracy is huge.

After former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had the temerity to identify the Voice for what it is — a third chamber in our parliament — activists have been keen to downplay concern. For example, first nations claimant Professor Peter Yu of the ANU complains that

We know what the case against us will be. … that it would contradict a principle of liberal democracy if one defined group should have a constitutional role in the workings of parliament. [1]

In seeking to address this problem, Yu actually confirms Turnbull’s interpretation. Yu dismisses the existing Constitution as being racist and states that

First Nations Australians must take control … The constitution that federated the Australian nation was anything but democratic … It was a founding document for the governing of white-settler Australia.

The Voice campaign is artfully framed to be concerned only with legislation that affects Aboriginals, but that is misleading, because all legislation affects Aboriginal people. As historian Keith Windschuttle points out in The Break-up of Australia, the Voice’s modest-seeming remit would cover everything that manages the lives of Australians. [2] The proposed Voice to Parliament is not really a voice at all. A voice leaves the prerogative to act with the listener. This Voice will be a fist.

Why would Aboriginal politicians be better? The core claim of the Voice campaign is that only Aboriginal politicians can fix the problems of Aboriginal disadvantage. That contradicts the entire basis of Western democracy and administration, which chooses managers based on their expertise and qualifications, not their race.

What’s more, the evidence does not support the claim.  Aboriginal-run townships generally suffer the worst problems, as evidenced at Wadeye [3],  Aurukun [4] and Yuendumu. Not only do women and children suffer, but people trying to help, such as teachers and nurses, feel unsafe and leave. In Canberra itself, Aboriginal activists and their supporters started a fire at Old Parliament House [5] and, before that, organised a mob that threatened then prime minister Julia Gillard. [6]

Impact on the arts, media and scholarship

Sydney University’s Fisher Library recently moved to ban works on Aboriginal issues not approved by Aboriginal groups. Many community libraries seem to have informally adopted similar bans.

Given that the Aboriginal movement wants and seeks such bans, it is almost certain that the Voice would be used to formalise that approach throughout Australia. From there, it would be a small move to apply similar restrictions to the media, and perhaps to PhD dissertations.

In the arts, there have been attempts to exclude non-Aboriginal artists from using designs associated with traditional Aboriginal art, and to stop non-Aboriginals from writing about Aboriginal experiences. Those attempts fizzled in the face of opposition from artists and writers, but they would return if they enjoy the legislative backing of the Voice.

Impact on Australian society

Given the insistence that Aboriginal tribes are nations and have sovereignty, it is likely they would move to gain administrative rights including, eventually, the right to issue visas and customise the tax laws for “Aboriginal” corporations. [6] Such moves would undermine our visa and tax laws, and facilitate tax avoidance by multinationals.

Aboriginal people already have many special rights, including the rights to enter restricted areas and hunt and fish, and to kill protected species. The rationale for those rights is weak given that the hunting and fishing is done with 4WDs, rifles and petrol-engined boats, and that Aborigines are no longer hunter-gatherer societies.

Most of the rights are state-based and could be revoked if our society chooses. The Voice would almost certainly be used to entrench and extend such rights. Indeed, that may be one of the unstated drivers for the Voice campaign.

At the same time, Aboriginal groups are restricting parts of our country from access by other people. To date that has included parts of Uluru, climbing areas in the Grampians [7] and a walking track at Wollumbin in northern New South Wales. [8]

Obstructing the economy

Expanding lists of alleged Indigenous sites also poses a challenge for farmers, other private land holders and governments. When Western Districts farmer Adrian McMaster moved some rocks on his farm, he was condemned by Aboriginal activists who alleged the rocks were part of a traditional site.[9] Victorian government authority Aboriginal Victoria moved to investigate McMaster, who commissioned an independent report and has launched defamation proceedings.

When Victoria sought to widen a road in the west of the state, Aboriginal groups blocked work for two years in defence of what they described as a sacred ‘birthing tree’ and added $60 million to the cost. [10]

Aboriginal languages are becoming more prominent, even though most are dead languages and had no body of written work. It is likely the Voice would designate some Aboriginal languages as official languages for parts of government, and perhaps even court cases, adding to administrative costs and introducing barriers to participation for 99 percent of the population.

If the Anthony Albanese and his government really want to introduce a referendum, it should ask Australians whether we want a respectful society of equals or a parliament where legislation is held hostage by a race-based Third Chamber.


[1] Peter Yu, “Anything but democratic, the constitution excluded my people”, SMH, June 10, 2022 https://www.smh.com.au/national/anything-but-democratic-the-constitution-excluded-my-people-20220608-p5asc1.html

[2] Keith Windschuttle, The Break-up of Australia: The Real Agenda Behind Aboriginal Recognition, Quadrant Books, 2016 https://quadrant.org.au/product/hidden-agenda-aboriginal-sovereignty/

[3]  Rohan Smith, Violence out of control in outback town of Wadeye, home to 22 clan groups, News Ltd, May 02, 2022, https://www.news.com.au/national/northern-territory/violence-out-of-control-in-outback-town-of-wadeye-home-to-22-clan-groups/news-story/e9106e52ce0e1d9d240ffbb8f51d1601

[4] Rohan Smith, Aurukun principal attacked for second time in two weeks as spotlight shines on ‘neglected’ community, News Ltd, May 23, 2016 https://www.news.com.au/national/queensland/top-end-community-where-women-brawl-in-front-of-police-has-been-let-down-by-the-system/news-story/354ab240b71f37cdfc673eb31fd864ea

[5] Keith Windschuttle, The Violent Politics of Australia Day, Quadrant, Jan 9, 2022 https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/aborigines/2022/01/the-violent-politics-of-australia-day   

[6] Keith Windschuttle, The Voice on ‘Invasion Day’, Jan 26, 2021 https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/bennelong-papers/2021/01/the-voice-on-invasion-day/    

[7]  Calla Wahlquist, Grampians rock-climbing ban: Indigenous group says heritage is ‘non-negotiable’, The Guardian, July 2, 2019 https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jul/02/grampians-rock-climbing-ban-could-be-softened-if-cultural-heritage-respected

[8] Dwayne Grant, Future of popular NSW walking track through sacred site in doubt, The Guardian, March 26, 2022 https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/mar/26/future-of-popular-nsw-walking-track-through-sacred-site-in-doubt-after-floods

[9] David Estcourt, Sacred ground: Dispute over Aboriginal landmark pits landowner against journalist, musician, The Age, April 17, 2022 https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/sacred-ground-dispute-over-aboriginal-landmark-pits-landowner-against-journalist-musician-20220414-p5adfo.html

[10] Timna Jacks, Fight over sacred trees on Western Highway cost $60m, watchdog says, The Age, July 30, 2020 https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/fight-over-sacred-western-highway-trees-has-cost-60m-watchdog-says-20200730-p55gwz.html

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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