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Byron Shire
February 2, 2023

A case for delaying the Voice

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Catherine Cusack is a former NSW Liberal MLC. Photo Tree Faerie.

Last year’s election of a progressive federal parliament had many of us excited that obstacles to change, erected by an increasingly hard-right cabal of LNP and media jocks, could finally be swept away. 

Australia could return to rational policies on climate change and integrity, to restore rules-based government. There would be fairness for First Nations people, as well as women. We had thousands of gripes with the Morrison government, and with hindsight, our hopes the tables had turned could prove unrealistic.

The election of a new government did not prevent the Lehrmann court case ending in fiasco. I was grateful for Brittainy Higgins’ statement listing the difficulties victims encounter in our legal system, because I truly had no idea how big, bad and difficult those problems are. There is no silver bullet – modernising our legal system so it can deliver justice and play its role in improving society is going to be a long arduous task. It isn’t solved by one federal election.

Yes, we are finally making long-awaited headway on climate change, but my biggest disappointment has been a lack of consensus on deforestation. 

In a similar vein, I am increasingly anxious about the way we are managing the ‘Voice’ referendum, which promises overdue recognition and engagement of First Nations Australians. I can guarantee you I will be voting ‘Yes’ at the referendum. So my criticism of the process is motivated by wanting the Voice to succeed. 

This is very different to the Dutton criticisms that aim to destroy, and not help.

I feel we are stumbling back to the awful mistakes of the 1999 Republic referendum, where an overwhelming majority of Australians wanted to cut the apron strings tethering modern us to the British royal family.  

For readers who are too young to remember, the debacle of that referendum saw the most ardent republicans split from moderate republicans, and aligned themselves with monarchists to advocate a ‘No’ vote. 

They did not like the ‘minimalist model’ of parliament appointing our head of state – so they blocked any change and checkmated their own cause.

There are plenty of lessons – but the key one I want to point out is that the debacle concerning a proposed republic unfolded in 1999 – some 23 years ago. It drank up all our energy for even discussing a republic, and killed the issue for more than two decades. With no sign it will be revived. Do we really want to inflict this outcome on Aboriginal Australia? 

Putting it bluntly,  I don’t give a frostbitten fig about how the royal family felt about our 1999 Republic debate. 

By contrast, the looming ‘Voice’ referendum has disastrous impacts if it is lost. And it will lose if it proceeds in a way that bitterly divides Australians – for all the wrong reasons – and sees vast numbers of voters who do want reconciliation voting ‘No’. 

 We have already seen this happen when ardent republicans destroyed the 1999 referendum. It feels we are on the exact same track for the 2023 ‘Voice’ referendum.

It would be horrific to repeat that 1999 mistake. A ‘No’ vote that sets back reconciliation 24 years (as happened with the Republic), is the worst imaginable outcome. It must be avoided, even at the cost of delaying or cancelling the referendum. 

The Albanese government does have the option of ‘just getting on with it’. The Voice does not require the symbolism of constitutional change. This referendum is being conducted to establish a voter mandate for the Voice. 

Such a mandate would be powerful, but if it backfires, and there is no mandate at all, the effect will be to sink the Voice altogether. 

The 1999 Republic referendum did require a change to the Constitution – we had to roll the dice with a referendum that was poorly designed and got hijacked and defeated. 

There is no such imperative for the Voice. I would love a referendum to pass, and feel increasingly angered by the politics, especially the National Party’s blinkered opposition. I do not want bloody-minded politics to get away with sinking the Voice. But with an increasingly diverse number of First Nations leaders questioning the Voice, I fear it its enemies now have powerful means to derail and destroy the conversation.

Rather than lose, let’s hit pause. We have got to get this right for the sake of the very people we are trying to help. And I am increasingly of the view that blundering forward with a national vote that carries a high risk of failure is the wrong thing to do. It is a grave mistake to unnecessarily risk the very soul of our country, and the wellbeing of dispossessed and decimated communities. 

The Albanese government still has a small window to recover this issue and get the Voice referendum back on track. We need to be on a pathway to a near consensus vote – a verdict I believe Australians are capable of delivering. Linda Burney (who I admire greatly) and her team can succeed. But if not, then it is better to stage a tactical retreat than kill this important cause by staging a failed attempt. We need a positive outcome. Anything less will cause more harm than good.


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17 COMMENTS

  1. (Quote: ‘Linda Burney (who I admire greatly) and her team can succeed. ‘
    Unfortunately CC, this is one of the main reasons “the voice” is languishing consequent to all her insulting antics and stunts.

    • The only insults are coming from the right wing sky/ Murdoch press.can you explain all her insulting antics and stunts rather just make a statement. If you have followed the discourse I think you will find Linda burnet has carried herself with calmness and lack of belligerent comments unlike you.

    • Rob L, when did Linda Burney, “all her insulting antics and stunts”. Please give us the details.

      What we do know is who it was that tried to goad Linda Burney with a brain-dead attempted insult… “dripping with Gucci”…, oh yeah, that was LNP Senator Jacinta Price.
      To her great credit Linda Burney stayed the high road and didn’t engage.

  2. Those who genuinely want reconciliation will vote no to dividing Aboriginal Australia and the rest of Australia on the basis of race

      • What are you going to do about the cultural appropriation? They keep using electricity and cars and White man medicine and learning all the secret White man magic, like science and stuff. What do we get for taking them from the Stone age to the Space age in one easy step? I want reparations!

      • Rod, 100%
        Some people must have missed it, Australia has been divided on race since 26/1/1788.
        The Voice is a gracious gift after 234 years of cruel mistreatment.

          • It’s a lack of gratitude for everything we have given them. But it’s not Aboriginal perpetuating this hatred, they are simply being used as a weapon.

          • CS, from below, “It’s a lack of gratitude for everything we have given them. But it’s not Aboriginal perpetuating this hatred, they are simply being used as a weapon.”

            “Gratitude”, great point you you brought up.
            From what I’ve learnt, and still learning, First Nations People aren’t the ones needing to give gratitude to anyone, you’ve got your lines all back to front old son.
            It the Whitefella and all us present day occupiers that should be showing gratitude to First Nations People.
            It the racists and whitefella supremacists that scribble away stoking their weapons of division, hate and intolerance.

            “Though shall not steal”, but we occupy stolen Land, so thank you to the First Nations People.
            “Though shall not kill”, but we gave genocide a red hot go that the First Nations People survived for 235plus years, so thank you(?) to the First Nations People.

            In return we show our gratitude to the First Nations People by seeing them….coming last – The Closing The Gap Reports spell it all out.

            Australia’s wealth is built upon the blood and dispossession of First Nations People, so on behalf of a grateful nation, Christian and Joachim say a thank you to the First Nations People.

  3. LNP aren’t hard right, they’re centre left. You know who are hard right? The kind of Aboriginals that don’t have to tell you they are Aboriginal. They don’t want anything to do with White man stuff like parliaments, and they don’t want to be dictated to by members of other tribes, and they don’t like what the hand outs do to their young people. At least that’s what I was told when I went 5 metres out of my way to ask one.

  4. To demonise those with genuine concerns about the voice is lazy and stokes the division.
    Please use intellect and clarity rather than juvenile insults, to address specific concerns and you may just be surprised.

  5. As usual Catherine you speak from the heart and with a great deal of commonsense, why did you waste so much time in the Liberal party? The 1967 referendum was so successful because the question was kept simple, complication in a referendum spells disaster. The problem for Aboriginal people is they have always been a diverse culture even before colonization, and unless they unite on this issue it will struggle to pass. Conservative forces are very aware of this and are exploiting it for their own advantage; radical elements within the Greens like Lidia Thorpe are playing right into their hands, and extreme right opportunists like Jacinta Price who has a history of association with right wing organizations are working overtime to complicate what should be a simple proposal, to bring about its defeat. If Aboriginal people have these two protagonists “supporting” their cause they certainly don’t need enemies.

  6. I fostered Aboriginal boys I had no problem with the kids their needs were obvious plenty of problems with the deaf state social services. What point is a Voice with universal deafness White mens laws are awful enough for white men that can understand them for Aborigines they are pure hell. The employment laws are such that only the pick of the litter get jobs We need employment law skills and pay to make it atractive to hire Aboriginals today if you hired Aboriginals you would go broke If your restaurant served Goanna you would go to jail. There is plenty of work Aborigines can and will do they just dont fit with many monotenous white jobs and cost too muh with minimum wages that dont match their lifestyle

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