Features Australia

I am Victim, give me Voice

All Australians will no longer be equal

Ramesh Thakur

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Ramesh Thakur

26 August 2022

11:00 PM

The Voice idea is wrong in principle in seeking to entrench one Australian racial identity in the constitution. It won’t have any positive practical effects. Some Australians may feel virtuous today by recognising the neglect and wrongs done in the past by their ancestors. But it will do nothing good of any consequence to improve the aborigines’ lot today or in the future. There is not one practical outcome that cannot be delivered by listening to standard advisory panels without entrenching racial differences in the constitution. It’s morally wrong because it will displace the inclusive, unifying, universal humanism of ‘one country, one nation, one people’ with the divisive, polarising and regressive tribalism of identity politics. It will be impossible to put the genie of racialised identity back in the bottle, ever. The argument was crisply expressed by US Chief Justice John Roberts in Parents Involved (2007): ‘The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race’.

Wholesale population movements have been a regular feature of human history. In the process, some indigenous people get overwhelmed. A subsequent generation of the colonising race might seek to expiate historical guilt by protective, ameliorative and compensatory policies. Human rights deal with the proper balance in relations between individuals, society and the state. A human right, owed to every person simply as a human being, is inherently universal. Held only by human beings, but equally by all, it does not flow from any office, rank or inherited identity. It embodies the intuition that each and every one of us is entitled to equal moral consideration. Cultural relativism, for example on gender rights and sexual and child violence, can be profoundly racist, in proclaiming ‘the other’ is not worthy of the dignity that belongs inalienably to one. Human rights advocacy rests on the moral imagination to treat others as rights-bearing equals, not dependants in tutelage.

Aborigines are our most marginalised, disadvantaged and destitute people on social, economic and political indicators. The real question is how to restore their dignity and self-esteem and help move them into the middle classes and political mainstream without substituting one set of identity-based injustices for another. Is guilt for historical wrongs collective and inheritable from perpetrating to current generations? Both elements are deeply problematical even with respect to the descendants of the original settler race. They are completely incoherent with respect to migrants from other places. Where would the Voice leave Asian-Australians? Could someone please explain why I should share this guilt, agree to a Voice for Aborigines denied to us as a group, and why the majority has the right to rewrite the terms of the contract that I implicitly entered into in choosing Australian citizenship?

First-generation negative rights prohibited the state from curtailing the civil rights and political liberties of citizens. In this conception, human rights claims are claims by citizens on governments and can be abused most systematically, pervasively and widely by governments. Second-generation positive rights reflected the effort by many newly independent countries to prescribe an activist agenda of social and economic rights for the poor. In this conception the state is the creator, guarantor and enforcer of rights. Third-generation solidarity rights pertain to collective entities rather than individuals. Based on notions of solidarity, this leads inevitably to clashes with first-generation individual rights.

Universalising the human rights norm was one of the great achievements of the last century. But that very process has created a monster that threatens to blow up the whole project. Traditional human rights understandings have been subverted, in the name of human rights, by anti-discrimination laws and practices. Identity-based public preferments are instruments for entrenching sectarian divides and deepening group tensions in the future more than atoning for past sins of commission and omission. Conferring privileges and benefits based solely on self-identification is a recipe for perpetual conflict. All Australians are equal. Not all can be equally successful, ever, in any society, not even in Utopia. Yet that is the premise on which equality is corrupted into equity as the deliverable of public policy. Unequal outcomes in an essentially egalitarian society will reflect differences in ability, application, character, culture, interests, family (e.g. Tiger Mums) and values. Conversely, equal outcomes despite inherently unequal determinants of success can only be achieved by fundamentally illiberal diktats.

The Voice will rely on a largely factitious indigenous ‘national’ identity and create endless intra-aboriginal conflict in practice. Who will be the spokespersons, chosen how, by whom and for what term? Will there be any objective, verifiable definition and test of aboriginality like a defined DNA percentage? A minefield for parliament, the Voice will be a goldmine for lawyers and a golden opportunity for judges to insert their prejudices into interpretively expanding its enabling powers. The last two decades have shown a bipartisan decline in the capacity of Australian governments to make necessary but ‘courageous’ decisions. To believe that parliament will be able to resist demands articulated by the Voice is a triumph of hope over experience. There is no policy intention so noble that it cannot be corrupted into self-multiplying bad outcomes. Look at India and New Zealand.

After being in operation for more than seven decades, India’s caste and religion-based policies have produced multiple harmful effects, continue unabated despite the original 15-year term limit in the constitution, have expanded in scope and coverage, created big government and self-perpetuating bureaucracies and been captured by elites – even as inter-group divisiveness was deepened and entrenched.

In New Zealand, what began as an acknowledgment of historical wrongs and restoration of Maori language, dignity and identity has morphed, slowly, insidiously but unstoppably, into a ‘coup’, ‘replacing liberal democracy with co-government’ with Maori (former senior Labour minister Richard Prebble). The wealthy corporatist elite within Maoridom will get a veto over much of every Kiwi’s health and life. Similarly, a constitutional Voice will be the start of a new stepped-up campaign for expanding claims, not the end of the story. As an Asian-Australian and a professional student of politics who has seen this film that never ends well screened in cinemas around the world, I am more attracted to Tony Abbott’s suggestion: amend the preamble to recognise ‘an Indigenous heritage, a British foundation and an immigrant character’ in our ‘one indivisible federal commonwealth under the crown’, ‘because it’s unarguably true, has something for everyone, would recognise indigeneity as one of the three pillars on which our country has built yet wouldn’t create a lawyer’s picnic’.

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Comment by Nelle- Woke lunacy in full throated roar -we are all equal but they want a minority to overwhelm the majority

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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