The Voice: How to answer the naysayers

The Voice: How to answer the naysayers

Voting is not enough. Those who say ‘Yes’ to the Voice need to be able to counter the doubters. MARY CROOKS corrects some misconceptions.

We have an historic opportunity to markedly progress the cause of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

By answering Yes in the upcoming referendum, we will loosen much, much more the suffocating stranglehold of denialism. It means we can forge a new compact between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, building on the impressive reconciliation work done so far by so many.

The Voice is a simple, straightforward and practical idea. It has been conceived over many years of thoughtful design, and impressive standards of consultation. It enjoys the support of more than 80% of Indigenous Australians.

The Voice will be an advisory body, allowing the experience, knowledge and wisdom of Indigenous communities to be heard, and reflected, in the development of policies and programs which can positively affect their lives. The design of the Voice will be determined by our elected representatives.

Crucially, once established, it also enshrines a greater level of political accountability from our elected representatives. If they listen, and then choose to disregard sage advice, they must be able to account for this – to us as electors. Continuing to ignore recommendations from such reports as Deaths in Custody and Bringing Them Home, will be at their peril.

Let’s not be distracted or spooked by the sound and the fury out there by some loud negative voices and sections of media that chase conflict and create sideshows. 

Let’s not allow ourselves to be dragged into a vortex of misinformation and lines of argument straight from the same playbook which proclaimed the end of the world with the Mabo judgment; and which questioned the methodology and truth-telling involved in the Stolen Generations Report.

Let’s have some perspective here.

It is said we need more detailsNo, we don’t. A mountain of detail exists, including the 262-page design report from Marcia Langton and Tom Calma. It was delivered in 2021, which means all senior political figures have had at least two years to read it. 

We were taken into a war with Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction — people did not say, we need more detail. The Labor Opposition went to the polls last year with a policy to create an anti-corruption commission — people did not say, we need more detail.

It is said that the Voice is a danger to our system of government and our democracy. No, it’s not. It is an advisory body. It will enhance our democracy. Media concentration in our country and undisclosed political donations are the sorts of things that compromise our system of government and endanger our democracy.

It is said that it’s discriminatory. No, it’s not. It starts to end over 200 years of discrimination against First Nation peoples.

It is said that Indigenous people do not support itSome don’t. The overwhelming majority do. With every federal and state election, there is never voter homogeneity so why do we insist otherwise in this case. If the majority of Indigenous Australians were opposed, it would be different.

It is said it is dangerous to extend giving advice to executive government. No, it’s not. Ministers’ diaries are filled every week with representations from individuals, representatives of organisations and lobbyists.

It is said that the Voice accords special privileges and rights to Indigenous people over others. No, it doesn’t. When egregious harm has been committed against Indigenous Australians, we need to do something special to redress that harm. We acknowledge it and seek to right the wrong. A mature democracy does this, as well as addressing other inequities in our society. 

It is said that the Voice creates an added expense to the already large amounts spent on Aboriginal programs and services. No, it won’t. The Productivity Commission has recently affirmed the importance of listening and understanding the lived experience of Indigenous communities. Place-based solutions that overcome past failures of government will be money better spent.

It is said that this introduces race into the Constitution. No, it doesn’t. Since the very beginning, the 1901 Constitution has included race-based powers and racial exclusion. This is about recognising the original inhabitants of our country by adding them to the birth certificate of modern Australia. 

It is said that the whole thing is divisive. No, it’s not. It will help further heal the deep wound created by our troubled past.

This article is an edited extract from a speech delivered at the ‘Women For Yes’ campaign launch. Listen to the full speech below.

Read the full speech here.

Photo: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks during the Yes23 official campaign launch in Adelaide last week (AAP Image/Mark Brake)