Beverley McArthur The Spectator Australia 14 April 2023
The Voice is an anathema to a nation that believes in equality – a nation that does not look to colour or creed, but the propulsion of individual best. The Voice divides on colour. Colour, alone, will give additional power to some over all others. It will become a legal and legislative nightmare we cannot retract. An eternal division.
Having provided an example to avoid, South Africa must be looking across the waters, scratching its brow, and wondering why a modern nation would choose this thing.
The Voice referendum will be a battle of wills. It should be a battle of ideas.
At no point should it be a battle to depict who has the biggest heart, or who is the most kind. There is not an Australian who doesn’t want the best outcome for Australia’s Aboriginal people, or for that matter, any Australian suffering genuine disadvantage.
We have said Sorry – and we meant it.
But saying ‘No’ is not saying you don’t care. It is not saying you want existing gaps to widen.
It is simply saying that segregating Australians on colour, and cementing it in constitutionally, is a retrograde step.
‘No’ is saying that there are better ways that ‘better’ can be achieved.
Australia must now rise to the occasion – be mature – be grateful for the opportunity to challenge, to converse, to contend, to contest the ideas. Unfortunately, the early signs in this ‘debate’ are not good.
Name-calling is not debate. Shaming is not debate. Bullying is not debate.
Victoria’s Labor Premier, Daniel Andrews, is clearly going to be a player in this low game.
This is a man who points to those who dare disagree with him with pointed fingers and a sharp tongue. He says the Liberal Party is bigoted and is a ‘mean, nasty outfit with hearts about as big as their dwindling primary vote’. He clearly hopes no one will notice that his Labor vote was on a par with the Liberal vote.
It is unfortunate politics from a man who lauds China and under whose watch more than 100 children have died while under state care in Victoria in the past two years.
The debate demands better.
Victoria, however, does provide useful insights for The Voice. The state is well down the Treaty track starting with the creation of its Voice equivalent: the First People’s Assembly.
Of the 30,000 potential Aboriginal voters in Victoria, about 2,000 ballots, or just 7 per cent, were cast to select the Assembly representatives. Of 10,000 possible votes in Melbourne, just 783 were submitted; hardly inclusive or representative.
Between the establishment of the Assembly, Treaty, and the Yoo-rook Justice Commission and its truth telling mission, the costs are already close to $100 million. And it has only just begun.
Yet it will blush with modesty in contrast to The Voice, which will demand the backing of a multi-billion-dollar bureaucracy.
It’s clearly not money, or a Voice that’s needed, but better management of the billions of taxpayer dollars already invested in the Indigenous space.
Albeit it a shambles, the Victorian Assembly was at least voted upon.
The Voice is so undemocratic that some of its members will simply put up their hands, others will be tapped on the shoulder, some will push and shove to get the approval tick. But all will largely be non-elected, non-representative, non-democratic. And like it or not, in the days of self-identification, some may not even be Aboriginal.
Yet, unlike bad and corrupt governments – or even good governments – The Voice cannot be removed.
It will stay put and hold sway over every decision of elected legislators.
For what legislation does not impact the Aboriginal population? They are among us as equals. As Aboriginal leader, Warren Mundine, put with clarity: Aboriginal people are ‘already in the Constitution’ side by side every citizen of Australia.
The Voice will end the cherished one-voice one-vote Westminster system. It dismisses the already powerful ‘voices’ of 11 Indigenous MPs currently in our democratically elected federal Parliament. They represent 5 per cent of all federal MPs, a proportional over-representation of the 3.8 per cent Aboriginal population in Australia. In the Senate, Indigenous MPs account for 10.5 per cent of the 76 Senate seats.
With access to executive government the Voice can challenge, interrupt, and delay almost any decision to be made. On colour – not credentials – it will force executive roles, such as the Reserve Bank Governor, to attention. Our best economists would love such access.
The Voice raises one culture above all others – places a spiritual crown upon its head. It is a subjective position. Who is to say that they alone have a unique link with the land, place, or people – for aren’t we all indigenous somewhere?
The Voice won’t solve the local problems and racism will solve nothing.
It’s that simple.
If Australians doubt that racism is central to The Voice, they should do this: remove ‘Indigenous’ from the wording and insert ‘White Australian’ – consider, then, if The Voice is racist. Flip the coin. It’s racism, either way you look at it. And no matter whose head is on the metal.
A vibe is not enough.
The constitutional bricks and mortar will outlast, outlive any vibe. And when all the Indigenous issues are solved, what then? A Voice for the Irish, the Chinese, the Lebanese, the Italians, and Greeks, and then every other group based on the latest identity fad?
It’s why the Dutton model is not stupid or racist, pathetic, cruel, heartless or wrong.
It acknowledges our Indigenous people. It acknowledges solutions must be local and practical.
Let’s not go down the US track and make race a political plaything as President Joe Biden did when he said to African Americans, ‘If you don’t vote Democrat, you ain’t black.’
Voting ‘No’ is a vote against racism and saying yes to better solutions.
No one surely doubts the need for better.
Bev McArthur is also a member of the Public Accounts and Estimate Committee
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