Let’s briefly unpack the ‘No’ campaign rhetoric for the upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum!
Voters will be asked later this year whether they agree to enshrining an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the Constitution.
If adopted, it would mean an ‘independent and permanent advisory body’ would be established. This advisory body would be called the Makarrata Commission, and according to www.voice.gov.au, they would give advice to the federal government on matters that affect the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. And it would have no veto powers.
The lack of detail around this body has been criticised by those opposed. Yet this ambiguity, it seems, is because future governments will fund the commission in accordance with their policies and priorities.
All sides of politics seem to agree: attempts to ‘close the gap’ across a range of socioeconomic, health, incarceration and education indicators, for example, have failed to improve the lives of First Nations people.
Under pressure to propose something else, Liberal opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has promised that if elected, his government would push for symbolic-only recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution and establish regional advisory bodies.
Yet ‘Yes’ advocate, Kerry O’Brien says, ‘When a government is voted out, a new one changes or waters down Indigenous advisory groups’.
If you try and scroll through the ‘No’ campaign talking points, there is quite a lot of fancy side-stepping needed to avoid the overt racism, misinformation and fear.
But there’s a few who are trying to provide an honest alternative, namely former Labor MP, Nyunggai Warren Mundine. He is chair of www.recogniseabetterway.org.au.
Mundine says, ‘Poverty, disadvantage and despair is not caused by lack of a voice. It’s caused by lack of economic participation’.
He goes on to say that mining jobs could empower First Nations people, a position that is perhaps not entirely supported by other mobs.
What is perhaps missing from the entire debate is hearing what more elders have to say.
The Uluru Statement from The Heart has come under fire for not consulting enough across different mobs.
Other talking points against the Voice include it becoming a costly, complex and unwieldy bureaucracy. That’s a fair call.
Another is that it will further divide the nation, and further entrench First Nations people as ‘victims’. Race should not be in the Constitution, they say.
If we were honest, cultural and economic divides already exist, because we all pay a different rate of tax. The boxes to tick if you are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander have been included in all levels of bureaucratic forms for decades.
Yet this is a worthy conversation to have: how can First Nations people be genuinely empowered to live their best lives?
Fortunately a suggestion has been provided, and can be enacted by voting ‘Yes’ in the referendum.
Hans Lovejoy, editor