“What do you think of the referendum about The Voice?” my brother asked me back in March.
“Haven’t heard anything about it,” I replied. I hadn’t heard of the Uluru Statement From The Heart, The Voice, or the resulting referendum.
As I tend to stay away from legacy news, this wasn’t too surprising, but I’ve heard of it now.
Recently, I received my official referendum booklet. It outlined the arguments for and against the proposal.
Outlining the NO arguments from parliamentarians, it was clear their job was easy. By its very nature, they were negative. Maybe they were valid. Maybe they were rhetoric. They certainly gave pause for thought.
Outlining the YES arguments from parliamentarians, it was a bit…how can I put this?…meringue. A lot of air, hardly any substance. Assertions, claims, but nothing to back them up. Sort of a Pollyanna wish list for how they’d like things to be.
Although I shouldn’t be, I’m still surprised by the influence minority activists can wield. In this case, their influence is resulting in a referendum which will impose significant financial impost on a nation whose governments have spent recklessly and irresponsibly in recent years, piling debt upon debt. And to what end?
Uluru Statement From The Heart
250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates endorsed a statement in May 2017, known as a Statement From The Heart.
For those who haven’t read or heard the Uluru Statement From The Heart, here it is (as displayed on the Uluru Statement website ulurustatement.org):
WE, GATHERED AT THE 2017 NATIONAL CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION, COMING FROM ALL POINTS OF THE SOUTHERN SKY, MAKE THIS STATEMENT FROM THE HEART:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago
This sovereignty is spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
First Nations People – What Is A Nation?
“Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations”
Everything is plural. A number of tribes. A number of nations. There is no doubt, as far as I am aware, that each tribe was associated with a particular territory. Considering the vastness of the Australian continent, it is understandable that the various tribes would range only so far, nomadic though some of them may have been.
It is obvious, then, as they spread around the continent, over time they became disparate tribes, and that different languages would have evolved. Cultures would have developed differently, too. Indeed, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) website, there were approximately 250 indigenous languages back in the late 18th Century. (Ref 1)
As the Statement From The Heart is keen on truth telling, it is worth recognising that many adjacent tribes did not get on well with each other.
None of this is consistent with the idea of Nationhood.
However, time changes things. Since colonisation, the number of languages has decreased. By the early 21st Century, it was down to 145 indigenous languages that were spoken to some degree, only 20 that are considered strong and able to be spoken by all generations. (Ref 1 AHRC website)
It is probably fair to say that Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islanders today consider themselves collectively to be a distinct race, one which has more claim now to nationhood than it ever did before colonisation. Yet that awareness of indigenous unity has only come about because of colonisation.
Sovereignty – Spiritual Or Authority?
“This sovereignty is spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty.”
So it’s spiritual sovereignty, then. Except…
“With substantive constitutional change and structural reform…”
“We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people…”
“When we have power over our destiny…”
Not so spiritual, then.
All of those statements are vague. None of them specify what the 250 delegates at Uluru back in 2017 are asking for.
Aboriginals – Custodians Or Owners?
Having custody of something is vastly different to having ownership of something. The Statement twice makes reference to “possession”, which doesn’t rule out custodianship or ownership. Ownership is only claimed in The Statement in a spiritual sense.
Reconciliation Australia describes itself as “the lead body for reconciliation in Australia”. On their website, they refer to the Aboriginals and Torrens Strait Islanders as “owners.” (Ref 2)
Australian Together don’t actually say who they are, just what they do. On their website, they refer to the Aboriginals and Torrens Strait Islanders as “custodians”: (Ref 3)
indigenous.gov.au is an Australian Government website. Typical of government, they won’t get pinned down on anything, if they can avoid it. They generally refer to the Aboriginals and Torrens Strait Islanders as “custodians,” but confuse things by also including “owners/custodians” suggesting, incorrectly, that the two terms are interchangeable. (Ref 4)
The Indigenous Concept Of Ownership
One aspect of Aboriginal culture is the absence of ownership.
Evolve Communities describes itself as “Australia’s Trusted Authority For Indigenous Cultural Awareness”. On their website, co-director Aunty Munya Andrews says:
“Many Indigenous peoples the world over generally do not believe that anyone or anything can be ‘owned’, especially the land.
“Rather than ‘owning’ the land, we believe that we belong to the land, in which there is no concept of individual ownership but rather one of joint belonging, collaboration and care of the land. What is more, land is not regarded as a non-human entity but rather as family whose obligations and responsibilities are determined by kinship ties.” (Ref 5)
Well. That puts the cat amongst the pigeons, doesn’t it? I wonder if Aunty Munya was one of the delegates at Uluru? Probably not.
Makarrata: A Treaty – What Does That Mean For Australia?
“Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.”
Self-determination. The call is for a treaty resulting in self-determination.
“…substantive constitutional change and structural reform…”
Self-determination through structural reform of government.
The Referendum Is About More Than “A Voice”
“We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution”
This Voice has to be a representative body, although there has been no statement about what form that body would take (or who would be on it, or how that would be decided, or by whom). Noel Pearson, who sits on the Referendum Council, has advanced the idea that such a body would “sit alongside Parliament to provide non-binding advice on legal and policy matters affecting Aboriginal and Torrens Straight Islanders,” according to the Australian Parliamentary website (Ref 6)
This idea of Pearson’s is neither consistent with self-determination, nor structural reform.
Is it any wonder that people might be wary, or even doubtful, about the nature of The Voice or constitutional change surrounding it? Indigenous MP Jacqui Lambie is.
Specifically Who Qualifies As An Indigenous Australian?
As for these changes that are to be made on behalf of indigenous Australians, who will they apply to or benefit? What qualifies someone as an indigenous Australian? Is it only people of full-blood? Half-blood? How much does one’s aboriginality need to be diluted before one no longer qualifies as an Aboriginal or Torrens Strait Islander? Who decides that, and how?
Or, as with the transgender movement, is it simply a case of saying that one identifies as a First Nation person to be one? (And, by the way, I demand you use my indigenous pronoun when referring to me.)
“We don’t need a voice. We need a forensic audit.”
Aboriginals Don’t Need Another Voice
Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islanders have a voice. Apart from MPs in both houses who are there to represent them (along with all other Australians) and the Minister for Indigenous Australians, they also have all the agencies, councils, corporations and other organisations that exist specifically to benefit indigenous Australians. Supposedly.
Media commentator, Alan Jones, recently broadcast his opinion on the lack of need for another Voice. According to him:
- there are already 3,352 registered aboriginal corporations,
- there are more than 30 land councils,
- there is the Council of Peaks, which represents 70 aboriginal corporations, and
- the Prime Minister has an indigenous advisory council.
Perhaps he didn’t want to take up airtime with a full list, so truncated it.
According to Frontline, on their website they claim, “We don’t need a voice. We need a forensic audit.” They go on to list figures based on the 2017 Indigenous Expenditure Report produced by the Productivity Commission. (Ref 7) Their source for this was Matthew Bennett.
Professor Matthew Bennett is Chief Inspector General of Ignita Veritas United (IVU) IGO (Ref 8), which is backed by the Sovereign Court of International Justice. IVU have an Indigenous Rights Division. Safe to say, this guy has done his homework in this area.
His list says there are:
- 3,278 Aboriginal corporations
- 243 Native title bodies
- 48 Land councils
- 35 Regional councils
- 122+ Aboriginal agencies
- 3 Advisory bodies
- 145 Health Organisations
- 11 Indigenous Federal MPs
- 12 Culturally important Indigenous days
Senator Jacqui Lambie
Incidentally, of those 11 Indigenous Federal MPs, 3 of them do NOT support a Voice to Parliament, and another – Senator Jacqui Lambie – supports the principle, but wants more detail. She says:
“I want to know what a Voice to Parliament will do to close the gap.
“Right now we’re being told a lot of words, but not a lot about the substance behind it and how it might actually work.” (Ref 9)
Just vote ‘Yes’ and we’ll work out the details later
How Many Aboriginals Support The Voice?
I have seen a claim in a couple of places that 84% of Aboriginals support The Voice. Where did that figure come from? It is a baseless assertion designed to have a psychological effect. It refers to no poll or study, nor gives any indication as to how that figure was arrived at. It carries no more validity than the contrary claim that only 11% of non-indigenous people support The Voice. That’s a claim I just made up, by the way. And it’s just as vacuous as the claim of 84%.
As for those 11 Indigenous Federal MPs, their support is running at way less than 84%.
Linda Burney, a cabinet minister in the Labor government (one of the 11 Indigenous Federal MPs), said in Parliament at the beginning of August that, “Progress on Makarrata will not occur until after the referendum.”
This is highly reminiscent of the referendum in 1999 to approve the proposal to establish Australia as a republic. (Just vote ‘Yes’ and we’ll work out the details later)
Is it any wonder that people might be wary, or even doubtful, about the nature of The Voice or constitutional change surrounding it?
National Indigenous Australians Agency – What’s It For?
One of the agencies that exists to benefit Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islanders is the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) On their website, they state their vision is:
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are heard, recognised and empowered”
“The National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) works in genuine partnership to enable the self-determination and aspirations of First Nations communities. We lead and influence change across government to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a say in the decisions that affect them.”
That’s pretty much everything the Statement From The Heart is calling for! We already have it!
Spectator magazine printed an article (also available online) outlining how the NIAA negates the necessity for a referendum. (Ref 11)
Of course, the article did not take into account the need for virtue signalling by a small minority, including the PM.
Is the NIAA failing? If so, why? If this is the case, the minister for indigenous Australians needs to be asking – and asked – some very sharp questions.
The NIAA’s total resourcing for 2022-2023 was $4.5billion.
Across all the different Aboriginal agencies and other bodies, Australian taxpayers contribute $33billion annually. (Ref 10 2017 Indigenous Expenditure Report produced by the Productivity Commission.
Previously, we have had the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, the National Aboriginal Conference, ATSIC, and the National Indigenous Council.
Clearly, throwing money at the problem hasn’t worked.
How much will the referendum cost? How much will the Makarrata commission cost? How much will the outcomes of that commission cost?
Aboriginals don’t need another voice. They need ears that will listen to them.
Do You Want Racism Built In To Our Constitution?
This referendum is proposing to provide a group of Australian citizens with a benefit that is not available to other Australian citizens. That provision is based solely on race. And they want that provision to be included in the Australian constitution.
The proponents want racism written into our constitution.
How is that not divisive?
Ref 2 – Reconciliation Australia – https://www.reconciliation.org.au/acknowledgement-of-country-and-welcome-to-country/
Ref 3 – Australians Together – https://australianstogether.org.au/resources-2/welcome-to-and-acknowledgement-of-country/
Ref 4 – Indigenous – https://www.indigenous.gov.au/contact-us/welcome_acknowledgement-country
Ref 5 – Evolve Communities – https://www.evolves.com.au/land-ownership-and-reconciliation/
Ref 6 – Australian Parliamentary – https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1617/Quick_Guides/UluruStatement
Ref 7 – Frontline – https://frontline.asn.au/news/we-dont-need-a-voice-we-need-a-forensic-audit/
Ref 8 – IVU – https://ignitaveritasunited.org/professor-matthew/
Ref 10 – NIAA – https://www.niaa.gov.au/who-we-are/the-agency