Big crowds are seen outside South Australia’s parliament in Adelaide, Australia, on March 26, 2023. (AAP Image/Matt Turner)
By James Allan, Gabriël Moens and Augusto Zimmermann
May 9, 2023Updated: May 9, 2023
On May 2, The Epoch Times published an opinion piece entitled “Yes Is for Bringing Australia Together and Moving Forward.”
The article argues that opponents of The Voice claim that the proposed entrenchment of The Voice in the Constitution repudiates “a central tenet of liberalism—the idea that we should be treated equally.”
The article’s author argues that this claim by the NO camp presents “an ideological and unrealistic conception of liberal democracy.”
The “central tenet of liberalism” that they refer to is presumably the principle of “political equality” or “equal citizenship.”
This is the principle that burdens and benefits should not be distributed on the basis of involuntary characteristics over which people have no control, such as race, as this leads to group-rights thinking instead of liberalism’s focus on the individual.
Yet, the article argues any reliance on this core notion of political equality as being “rich, given the history of unequal treatment suffered by Indigenous people.”
The sweeping claim that Australia’s history is one of “unequal treatment” is, in our opinion, misleading at best and false at worst.
Since World War II, governments around Australia have established hundreds of Aboriginal institutional bodies, which maintain and nurture a burgeoning and expensive Indigenous bureaucracy.
Billions of dollars have been pumped into determined, and good-faith attempts at closing the gap.
Native title and land rights have been entrenched in Australia’s legal system.
Aboriginal men acquired the right to vote in the 1850s under the constitutions of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia. As such, Aboriginal men had the same right to vote as other male British subjects over the age of 21.
Voting rights were then extended to all Indigenous Australians in 1962. Even in the 19th century, white Australians were hanged for killing Aborigines.
Meanwhile, the fact remains that the article’s emotive and passionate plea for The Voice carries with it a breach of the principle of political equality today, right now, in order to atone for the systemic violations of the principle in the past.
The Indigenous Voice to Parliament Is a Bad Idea
Regardless of how you view the past, in our opinion, this is a very bad idea.
Lock in an institutionalised Indigenous Voice body, and Australia will be locking in governing arrangements that violate the principle of equal treatment of all citizens.
But the article argues that you fix past discrimination with big dollops of future discrimination. We do not.
We believe the Indigenous Voice will undermine the long-term future of Australia’s liberal democracy (which, on any comparative basis, has been one of the world’s most successful).
The article’s author also argues the highly contentious view that Indigenous Australians were not counted.
“They were excluded from the Constitution of 1901 under a clause that said they should not be counted,” the author writes.
We suspect that in making that claim, they were relying on Section 25 of the Australian Constitution, which is often pointed to as proof that our Constitution contemplates a denial of the franchise on racial grounds.
This Section reads:
“If by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted.”
Things are nowhere near as clear as that.
Two of the co-authors of this piece have argued elsewhere that this Section was included in the Constitution because, in the 1890s, Queensland and Western Australia practised racial discrimination by not allowing people of exclusive Aboriginal ethnicity to vote in state elections.
The framers were opposed to this practice and wanted to bring those states into line with all the others, the ones where Aborigines already had the franchise.
Accordingly, Section 25 is more plausibly understood as an anti-racist provision designed to penalise those Australian states that still discriminated against Aborigines—by reducing their representation in the newly created Commonwealth Parliament if they continued with what they were doing.
Many Disagree the Voice Will Improve Outcomes in Indigenous Communities
The article goes on to claim that The Voice would “improve practical outcomes in Indigenous communities.”
This is an assertion, nothing more. Many, including many Indigenous Australians, disagree.
And, of course, no one in the YES camp traces out how, precisely, this will happen—how the constitutionalising of the Indigenous Voice will make things better on the ground for those Aboriginal people presently doing badly.
Instead, many in the YES camp make amorphous appeals to symbolism and moral virtues.
Let us be clear.
We believe the evidence points clearly to the Indigenous Voice being more likely to lead to bad outcomes, not good ones—for Indigenous Australians as well as the rest of us.
It seems likely to create a highly political body that deals in rent-seeking, that soon will be seen as a political body by the rest of us, that splits even the Aboriginal community.
A body that soaks up huge amounts of money and demands a purpose-built bureaucracy of its own, that makes passing laws in this country even harder than it already is, and that makes considerably more likely than not judicial adventurism and judicial activism somewhere down the road.
That might be a benefit to some small section of Australian society. But it will be a pretty big cost to more of us.
The article also argues a profoundly elitist view of democracy, and it implicitly rests on an identity politics view of the world, one where group rights matter at least as much as individual rights.
We think that the government’s proposed entrenchment of The Voice in the Constitution will not unite Australia.
Instead, it will perpetuate divisiveness.
It will force Australians to see the world through the prism of race and, worse, further divide Australians along the lines of race and ancestry.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.