The Voice: undermining democracy and empowering the elite

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Bryan Phillips

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Bryan Phillips

17 March 2023

6:00 AM

A constitutionally enshrined uniquely Aboriginal organisation will do nothing to solve the ongoing problems of marginalisation and social dysfunction in remote communities and is likely to leave the country dangerously open to disabling activism. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people claim to want a greater say on the laws, policies, and programs that affect their lives, yet there are already hundreds of organisations dedicated to helping them. How many more do we need?

Aboriginal leadership has had decades to fix the problems facing remote communities and yet little, if anything, has been achieved. The despair, drunkenness, drugs, violence, child rape, the inability to cope with the demands of modernity, and community dysfunction are still there. Why? We know what the problems are.

If the rationale for the Voice is to give the Aboriginal people who need help better access to government to solve their problems, what have the multitude of organisations out there been doing all these years past? Claiming their input has not been acted upon? Is it really that difficult and intractable, or is it that the industry is inherently addicted to the maintenance of the problems to justify their existence? Or is it the separatist approach that threatens the industry? This is Alice in Wonderland stuff.

Is another voice going to help? We already have The Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, over 30 Land Councils, Council of Peaks representing 70 Aboriginal organisations, more than 2,700 Aboriginal corporations, and 11 MPs in Federal Parliament who identify as Indigenous. We have a huge voice in the National Indigenous Times, singularly focused on Aboriginal issues. We also have Australia Post stamping letters with ‘Supporting Indigenous Communities’. You wonder how that translates practically into addressing community dysfunction.

We might also well ask how much effective time, effort and resources have gone into Aboriginal academia and the multitudes of Aboriginal organisations. So many have forged a career, made a living, gained academic titles out of the Aboriginal sector, and become fully integrated into the mainstream wielding more voices of influence than the average non-Indigenous Australian is ever likely to. Is it reasonable that scarce resources are allocated to highly paid academics to embark on Aboriginal studies yet are unable to find and implement practical solutions to the problems they claim a voice will solve? Is this ever challenged? In 2020 over 9,400 people and organisations were consulted over Aboriginal issues related to a voice, yet still nothing practical has changed. Just more talk and consultation at great national expense.

Many Aboriginal people, and those who interact with them, will tell you the solution must come from the bottom up. They may argue that they are not listened to by the dispensaries of support, but are they themselves listening? Why have these communities failed? Why are the houses continually trashed? Some of this gap is self-created squalor, but everybody else is blamed. What happened to respect for what is called Country? Why are parents neglecting their children? When everybody wants the best for their children, why is school attendance so low? How do you avoid the inter-tribal conflict? It is obvious that for the gap to be closed the children must have the opportunity to flourish which means they cannot be embedded in dysfunctional remote communities and hope to develop into fulfilled human beings. One of the great realities is that children’s critical formative years are the very early ones.

Wherever the dysfunction exists it must be addressed with common sense but there has to be the will. The problem is definable. Another (constitutionally embedded) voice will only duplicate existing organisations, waste more resources, be a catalyst for internal conflict, and more chillingly, leave us open to activism via a changed constitution.

Dr Bryan Phillips BEc, MBA, DBA. He is an independent writer and author. He is a Director of Asia Link (China) Pty Ltd a China resource company and Ascot Learning (Australia) Pty Ltd, an education services company based in Brisbane Australia.

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