‘The Voice’ proposal to amend Australia’s constitution seeks to instil more bureaucracy, empower activists and leave local aboriginal communities behind.
“I’m here to change the country,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the press conference. “We’ll feel better about ourselves if we just get this done.”
As Anthony Albanese announced the official wording of the ‘Voice to Parliament’ proposal that will be put to a referendum later this year, Australians were given a glimpse into his intentions and motivations. First nations communities continue to languish, riddled by crime and desperation despite decades of funding and government programs such as ‘Closing the Gap’. Albanese’s tearful announcement alludes to a personal quest that seeks to only cement his legacy as a progressive heavyweight concerned only with optics and political success.
Not only is ‘The Voice’ at risk of failing to address first nations issues in a meaningful way, but constitutional change is fraught with risk given the broad interpretations the high court typically applies to it. As such, it is well worth investigating the true motivations behind the voice, to discover what is being said in hushed tones away from public scrutiny under the veil of a glossy, feel good narrative.
The Hon Dr Gary Johns argues in his book The Burden of Culture that the majority of Aboriginal Australians are not living in poverty or at disadvantage. He argues that about 20% of Aboriginals are.
While a minister under the Keating Labor Government in the early 1990s, he came to realise that the close relationship between disadvantaged communities and the government purse was no accident. To this day, taxpayer money continues to supposedly fund these communities, however much of that money is tied up in bureaucracy, and the rest of it creates welfare dependency that traps people in poverty at a generational level.
As Nyunggai Warren Mundine points out, it is lunacy to expect that yet another advisory body, especially one that is centralised at a national level – to deliver genuine benefits to Aboriginal Australians. It doesn’t take more government programs and intervention to solve issues that are caused by government in the first place.
The working group that is behind the proposed “Voice” is a bit light on the details of the issues Aboriginal Australians face, which they claim exist without detailing what those issues actually are, and how the “Voice” as it is proposed will alleviate them. Exactly how can the Aboriginal people of Australia can be cast together as one, despite the diverse cultural and socio-economic challenges various local groups face?
The proposed structure of the “Voice”, whereby regional ‘voices’ (defined by arbitrary geographic boundaries) will appoint delegates to the national voice is also problematic, given the reality that local Aboriginal people tend not to participate in local advocacy/community groups or vote in elections.
Under this model, it would be possible for the voice to become a ‘stacked’ body filled with activists and career bureaucrats that fails to represent the local communities that appoint them, while also endangering the existing links between local communities and their elected representatives in Parliament.
The cost and scale of the “Voice” proposal has not been made clear to Australians, nor the complexity. There has been little room in the public debate for a discussion on how exactly a centralised body of unelected bureaucrats in Canberra will represent local community interests. In a 370 page report tabled by the working group on the “Voice”, they call for not only the 22 regional voices but also ‘local voices’, specialists in mediation and links to government between almost all levels of the “Voice”. It has not been made clear at what point does the advice of the “Voice” become relevant or binding and on what issues it won’t attempt to interfere with.
The lack of understanding, I fear, is by design. If the true implications of the working group’s ambitions were made clear to Australians it would not pass the pub test, and certainly not the threshold for constitutional change. However white Australia is being sold the “Voice” as a harmless act of recognition and another antidote to white guilt: a gravy train of progressive ideology that shows no sign of stopping.
Anthony Albanese and proponents of the ‘yes’ campaign are unashamedly leaning into this guilt and sense of moral value that the “Voice” supposedly holds; that rejecting this proposal exposes a fundamentally racist attitude.
While these arguments make a convincing case to halt the “Voice” proposal in its tracks and carefully consider the origins and true motivations behind it, the most powerful argument against it is the element of constitutional change. Given the generally unsuccessful history of previous indigenous advisory bodies and government initiatives, the success of integrating first nations people into government and the public service, the history of the High Court’s broad interpretations of the constitution and the scale of the proposed model for the voice – we as a liberal democracy cannot possibly justify entrenching such a body into the constitution.
Regardless of whether or not we will live under the “Voice” as opposed to with the “Voice”, we must separate the act of recognition from enshrining further bureaucracy into our constitution.
We know it doesn’t work.
Max Payne is the Australian Programs Associate with Students For Liberty, supporting Australian students in their pursuit of liberty and free markets. He has also run twice as a candidate with the Libertarian Party. Max is a firm advocate of free markets, individual liberties, and is now committed to the Christian faith - despite growing up in an atheist and left-leaning family. His other articles can be found on substack as well as the Learn Liberty blog.
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