The Voice

When Good Sense Goes Walkabout

Peter O’Brien

Chris Kenny is becoming a study in cognitive dissonance. In a recent article (paywalled) he tells us:

Sending reparations to China, roping smallish businesses into industry-wide industrial action, offering permanent residency and family reunion rights to 30,000 people who arrived here illegally by boat, and even lowering the voting age to 16 – these are not policies that Anthony Albanese promised. Yet they are either being implemented or considered as part of the new Labor, Greens and teal dynamic in Canberra.

These will change the country for the worse. They map out a road to economic ruin, sovereign enfeeblement, and democratic dystopia. They also present a clear opportunity for the right-of-­centre parties.

So far so good.  And:

Yet instead of calling this out, many so-called moderate Liberals are intent on matching Labor’s climate gestures, and mimicking the gender, sexuality and transgender identity ploys. It is instructive that when Climate and Energy Minister Chris Bowen went to the COP27 in Egypt and signed up Australia to an uncosted, unclear and unreasonable “damage and loss” or reparations idea, there had been a senior Liberal in town, the equally evangelical NSW Treasurer and Energy Minister Matt Kean.

Again, spot on. However, he then tells us:

The trouble is that many Coalition conservatives are wasting their energy and political capital generating a fear campaign about the Indigenous voice – something that can do no real harm to the nation but could provide considerable benefits. When they should be tackling the green left and their own woke wing on other issues, the conservatives are distracted by the voice.

But how do we know it can do no harm?                                                          

The reason the voice can do no significant harm is because if it is dominated by radicals, straying beyond its remit, it will be ignored by parliament and the public. Public and political accountability will force it to be realistic or irrelevant; remembering it can always be reshaped by parliament.

My question to Chris, posed in the comment thread to his article, was – how is that logic working out in relation to all the other unrealistic initiatives you’ve already castigated in your article (climate gestures, gender sexuality and transgender ploys, loss and damage funds and so on)? Why should any radical or unrealistic proposal emanating from the Voice be any different?  Especially if the Voice is embedded in the Constitution?

On Monday night’s Kenny Report, Chris called out the stupidity and over-reach of the Queensland Land Court in recommending against the Galilee Basin coal project of Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal.  As reported on the Renew Economy website:

It was also the first time the court took on-Country evidence from First Nations people in accordance with their traditional protocols. Kingham and legal counsel travelled to Gimuy (around Cairns) and Traditional Owners showed how climate change has directly harmed their Country.

As Youth Verdict co-director and First Nations lead Murrawah Johnson put it:

“We are taking this case against Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal mine because climate change threatens all of our futures. For First Nations peoples, climate change is taking away our connection to Country and robbing us of our cultures which are grounded in our relationship to our homelands.

Climate change will prevent us from educating our young people in their responsibilities to protect Country and deny them their birth rights to their cultures, law, lands and waters.”

This decision reflects the court’s deep engagement with First Nations’ arguments, in considering the impacts of climate change on First Nations people.

So here is a perfect example of the establishment, at the behest of an Aboriginal body, ‘straying beyond its remit’ to inflict considerable economic damage on the nation.  

Here’s another one.  The Santos Barossa Project — which will extract gas from under the Timor Sea 300 kilometres north of Darwin — is one of the largest Australian oil and gas investments in nearly a decade.  From the ABC website:

In September, the project was ruled invalid after a judge found the offshore gas regulator had failed to assess whether the company had consulted with all “relevant parties”, which he said should have included the Munupi clan of the Tiwi Islands.

The concern of the plaintiffs is that the project may have an adverse effect on turtles.  According to The Guardian:

Traditional owners say they have not given their free, prior and informed consent for the pipeline, which would be laid through Tiwi sea country and into Darwin, Larrakia country.

Tiwi Islanders say the project will damage their sea country and threaten marine life, particularly turtles, which play a central role in Tiwi culture.

And it may well do so, but presumably the best advice on this issue would come from marine scientists, not fisherfolk living almost 300 kilometres from the gas field. The decision is now under review by the Federal Court.

My point is that, even absent the Voice, Aboriginal voices are making themselves very much heard already through the legal system.  Do we really believe the Voice will accept, with good grace, rejection of any of its pet projects, even though they may be judged ‘unrealistic or radical’?  Will they ignore the potential of activist courts to give them what they want, especially if their case is bolstered by a constitutionally embedded third chamber of Parliament and the provisions of the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People?  I think not.

Does Chris Kenny not understand that the Voice is just the beginning?  If not, he must be the only one who doesn’t. All its indigenous proponents insist it is just the first step towards ‘truth telling’ and ‘treaty’.  As far as I am aware Kenny has expressed no opinion on either of these two vaguely defined and potentially destructive memes.

On Monday, the Nationals announced they would oppose the Voice.  Chris Kenny interviewed National’s leader David Littleproud in the immediate aftermath of this announcement.  Littleproud attempted, rather ineptly in my view, to defend the decision but to be fair to him, Kenny was unusually aggressive.  Littleproud’s main argument was that the Voice would not deliver outcomes to those Aborigines most in need.  And he’s right about that.  He made the point that the best advice government could get would be from the grassroots.  And he’s right about that too. 

But Kenny’s insistence that the Voice – a national body comprising some 24 members drawn from 35 regional councils – is the best source of grassroots advice is just laughable. 

Kenny is a stalwart of conservative thought and commentary, so I wonder if he ever entertains any niggling doubt – given that, on this issue, he is alone among the conservative commentariat – that he might be wrong on the Voice.

Peter O’Brien’s latest book, Villian or Victim? A defence of Sir John Kerr and the Reserve Powers, can be ordered here

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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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