A vote for the voice a threat to Australia Day

Peta Credlin The Australian 26 Jabuary 2023

Will today be our last Australia Day – or at least, the last one specifically celebrated on January 26? Suppose the Albanese government succeeds later this year in its quest to entrench an Indigenous voice in the Constitution; wouldn’t one of its very first representations to parliament and the executive government be to change the date, on the grounds that January 26, at least to some Indigenous people, is supposedly a day to mourn rather than celebrate?

You can’t say this would be beyond the voice’s remit, because the Prime Minister’s plan is that it “may make representations … on matters relating to” Indigenous people; and, as he admitted at the Garma festival last year, if the voice says something should happen, “it would be a very brave government that said it shouldn’t”.

While Anthony Albanese continues to say he doesn’t want to change the date of Australia Day, I sense a ploy. After all, he would be mindful that a clear majority of Australians don’t support change but he knows it will be the first push by his voice: and by giving commonwealth public servants the green light to take another public holiday in lieu of January 26, he’s signalling to activists “just bide your time, the revolution is coming”. But it’s not just the date that’s up for grabs. It’s quite possible a voice representation could be that Australia Day shouldn’t be celebrated at all, until such time as the “stain” of Aboriginal dispossession is washed away, via treaty-making and truth-telling, as called for, along with the voice, in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. As Voice Co-Design Report co-author Marcia Langton made plain in these pages on Wednesday, the voice should indeed “inform the parliament and government … about treaty aspirations” so understand what’s coming if this referendum succeeds.

Were the voice to have its way, as the PM says it normally should, any future Australia Day is much more likely to be celebrated on the anniversary of the ultimate treaty the Uluru Statement envisages between the Australian government and First Nations; not on, or even anywhere near, the date when modern Australia began.

Just three decades on from the Keating-era agreement that we should make more of our Australian character by celebrating January 26 as our national day on the actual date, the Labor Party is rapidly succumbing to an identity politics where our national unity is subordinated to the perspectives of race and gender.

Consider the attitude of the Andrews government, which has often been a test bed for other Labor governments. After first using Covid to justify cancelling Melbourne’s annual Australia Day parade, the government now says ending the parade has “got everything to do with how, as a community, we choose to mark the day differently”. A unilateral decision, without consultation and no mention of this move during the recent state election. Instead of a parade attended by almost 100,000 people as late as 2018, there will be just a flag-raising ceremony at Government House and a gun salute at the Shrine of Remembrance. While most Melbourne councils are still holding citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, it seems the biggest event is likely to be an “invasion day” march through the CBD.

While polls still say double the number see January 26 as Australia Day rather than as a day of shame, don’t underestimate the pressure for change. Despite failing on their core business of roads, rubbish and sensible planning, Greens-dominated inner-city councils are campaigning for change and have now been joined by Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart city councils, which have all dropped citizenship ceremonies on our national day. Worse still, the Australian Open will wipe any mention of Australia Day despite having already held a First Nations day last week and on Friday an official showcase of LGBTQ+ issues with its Pride Day. Can you imagine the US Open dropping the Fourth of July if it occurred at the same time or Wimbledon junking Union Jack bunting?

NSW Shadow Water and Housing Minister Rose Jackson says Australia Day is not a date that really works for me” as the controversial holiday is set to kickstart the state election campaign. “I’ve been on the record previously…

As some big corporate CEOs signal their virtue by working from home instead of taking a moment to celebrate the self-confident country we have all helped build, retailers such as Kmart have stripped their shelves of Australia Day merchandise; and, until it was reversed after media intervention, P&O had reportedly banned displays of flags from its Australia Day cruises. You can only imagine the bewilderment of new migrants, who voted with their feet to start a new life here, over all this self-flagellation about what happened two centuries ago.

Sure, we must appropriately come to terms with the past, but at the moment, all we’re doing is putting at risk our shared future.

The voice, should it be established, will undoubtedly add to division in our country by cementing separateness based on race, in our nation’s most important document. If the voice can’t lobby the government to change, or even to abolish, Australia Day, what’s its point, the activists will ask. Likewise, if the voice doesn’t provide Indigenous people with justiciable rights, and can’t make a difference to government policy across the board, what’s the point of enshrining it in the Constitution, as opposed simply to legislating for it, as could already be done under existing constitutional powers?

The very fact the Prime Minister is legislating to ban any official distribution of Yes and No material ahead of any vote has given the communications regulator special powers to negate so-called “misinformation”, which critics of the voice fear will be used to silence them, and has granted millions in taxpayer support to the official Yes campaign speaks volumes. After all, anyone confident of winning an argument is happy to have it; anyone fearful of losing it wants to shut it down, don’t they?

As criticism builds, the Albanese government continues to insist the voice is just a matter of being polite to Indigenous people and won’t be, as Malcolm Turnbull initially said, a third chamber of parliament; yet it won’t specify in the proposed constitutional change that it is an advisory body only, that can’t drag the High Court into any failure by the government to heed its advice, because to do so would repel those in its own ranks who see the voice as a Trojan horse ensuring that 4 per cent of the population can effectively veto decisions for all.

Even after reversing his earlier position not to support the voice, Turnbull admits it would be a “very influential and politically powerful part of our democracy”; reckons it should have been established and bedded down under legislation before being put into the Constitution, and; that it “could well be a wild ride”. Even he concedes there are “powerful and legitimate arguments against it” and that the government should at least set out “the parameters of the voice design” before any vote. As things stand, the Albanese government is asking the Australian people to sign a blank cheque for a constitutional change that even Turnbull says is “much more substantial” than the proposal to become a republic.

In the absence of the voice detail the government seems adamant not to provide, the final abolition of Australia Day as we have known it might be the very least of the changes it seeks to foist upon us.

1/ Art work by Western Desert artist and elder Yadjidta David Miller is projected onto the Sydney Opera House at dawn on Australia Day 2022. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

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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