Two doomed referendums
How virtue-signalling has replaced good government
9 July 2022
It is rare for Australian governments, federal or state, to perform even passably on any matter of importance – defence, energy, water, development, manufacturing, education, finance, housing or even sex where scientific truth is being replaced by gender of choice. Apart from the Aukus Treaty, what notable achievement can any government claim?
The fact remains that there is no significant problem facing Australia that, if it were not created by the politicians, has not been made significantly worse by them.
Nevertheless, the easy-going nature of Australians, as well as our uniquely perverse electoral system, means the politicians have so far escaped the retribution they deserve.
With the massive propaganda they and the mainstream media release, it is not surprising that, according to a recent National Civic Council opinion poll, 69 per cent now believe achieving the ‘net-zero’ emissions folly by 2050 is ‘a worthy target’.
But when Australians realise they have been constantly lied to and the national economy seriously and needlessly damaged, there will be retribution. This likelihood is confirmed in the massive 88 per cent who will only accept renewables if they do not cause economic harm.
That moment of truth is presently avoided by politicians riding on the backs of miners and farmers. Instead, these exports should be of direct benefit to the people as in Norway, with a proper and not give-away rate of royalties as in Qatar.
In the meantime, the politicians continue with distractions, where they can demonstrate their claimed moral and intellectual superiority to ordinary Australians.
They did this with their fake republicanism in the Nineties. While the Albanese government pretends to republican purity, they know the issue is dead. Why else do they talk so nervously of this now being ‘a second or third-term issue’?
Republicanism is well and truly superseded by the current leading virtue-signalling distraction, the ‘constitutional recognition of the indigenous people’.
As the new indigenous senator Jacinta Price indicates, this is irrelevant to the real issues which confront the aboriginal people. Australians of goodwill have a long record of achievement here. One I knew well was the late judge, Hal Wootten QC. He founded the Aboriginal Legal Service which depended on young volunteer lawyers who advised and appeared for the unrepresented. Until government funding allowed for employed lawyers, we did what we could.
And we did that without the need to recite empty formulae about paying respects or flying flags that did not then exist.
As to the Constitution, it actually recognised the indigenous from the beginning as resident British subjects. It provided in Section 51(xxvi) that only the states could make laws for the ‘aboriginal race’.
Further, in reckoning the numbers of the people, Section 127 directed that ‘aboriginal natives’ not be counted. This was said not to affect their rights but related to the formation of the number and place of House seats.
Soon recognised on both sides that this should be removed, after a failed Labor attempt, Prime Minister Menzies introduced a 1965 Bill for a referendum, but arguing 51(xxvi) be retained as it protected aborigines from discriminatory Commonwealth laws, adding his fear to a colleague that this would result in a federal ‘bureaucratic monstrosity’. ‘You can achieve anything you want with the states by conditional grants under the Constitution,’ he insisted.
Menzies was prescient, as illustrated by the sad history of ATSIC. But when in 1967 Prime Minister Holt called what was to be the nation’s most successful referendum, it also empowered federal legislation.
Simultaneously with the 1999 republic referendum, the Howard government introduced a referendum for a new constitutional preamble which would have included ‘honouring Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation’s first people, for their deep kinship with their lands and for their ancient and continuing cultures which enrich the life of our country’. It failed to pass.
The following Labor government then appointed an expert panel of indigenous leaders and others who recommended the repeal of two sections and the insertion of three. There was little chance of such a complicated referendum succeeding. With the Mabo and Wik cases on native title, and other cases, any No case then or now will rely heavily and persuasively on the danger of unpredictable High Court interpretation.
Australians for Constitutional Monarchy then became involved, but not by design, when the new prime minister, Tony Abbott, was invited to give the Neville Bonner Oration in 2014. During the course of this, he invited ACM ‘as the Constitution’s fiercest defenders’ to support constitutional recognition through a descriptive change in the preamble.
Scheduled to move the vote of thanks and knowing the feeling in ACM, I suggested that rather than involving the people only in voting at the end, they be involved from the beginning through a partially elected convention on the 1999 republic model. ACM then put in a detailed submission (No. 98) to the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition, stressing the need for a Convention for this and also as the Constitution’s first such people’s review.
Curiously, prominent indigenous leaders and associates then coalesced in agreeing to hold a convention, but one only for the indigenous. This resulted in the Uluru Statement from the Heart which calls for constitutional recognition through a national indigenous voice to represent the indigenous who have increased from 115,953 in 1971, 0.9 per cent of the population to 812,728 in 2021, 3.2 per cent. This reflects the loose definition of indigenous which allowed its author, the High Court, to block recently the deportation of two violent criminals who were not even Australian citizens. With this, the No case has been strengthened.
What probably seals the fate on any such referendum is that among politicians and similar elites, the Voice is worn as their primary badge of moral signalling. Instead, the nation will be listening to indigenous leaders with the common sense of Senator Jacinta Price.
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