I have been hesitant about posting this. I feel there are already far more compelling and eloquent arguments than mine on this subject, especially those made by actual Indigenous people.
And yet I also cannot help but feel total dismay over all the noise, naysaying, ignorance, deliberate misinformation and vitriol out there, and so this my small attempt to dispel it.
Am I guilty of more virtue-signalling that won’t change anyone’s opinion and will only ricochet around the echo-chamber of social media? Who knows. Probably. But I’ll give it a shot anyway…
First off, offering our First Nations people a Voice will not “divide” Australia into two separate classes, as some seem to be cynically suggesting. Regrettably though, refusing them said Voice (and for all the wrong reasons) is already proving to be highly divisive.
Which is a shame because the Voice is really just about being fair. It’s about extending our First Nations people an invitation to finally feel part of a modern Australia.
This is an invitation which is long overdue. We all know that Indigenous Australians have been unfairly disadvantaged, marginalised and discriminated against since the brutality of our colonial days. And yes, while Australia (and most Australians) have come a long way since then, our First Nations people are still being left behind in lots of ways.
They don’t feel included. They don’t feel welcome. The gap is not closing; it’s widening. So, something has to change.
The Voice is about recognising this sad truth and seeking to redress it by asking Indigenous Australians for their counsel in decisions that directly impact them. And importantly, showing we actually mean it — that we walk the talk — by enshrining it in our constitution, much like other progressive democracies around the world have done for their Indigenous populations.
Secondly, the Voice will not (and legally cannot) hamper how our government or the Parliament operates. Along with countless other legal experts, Australia’s top lawyer, Federal Solicitor General Stephen Donaghue, has explained in no uncertain terms that the Voice offers no threat to our system of representative democracy. Instead, he suggests it may even enhance it.
So, when a highly credible authority on constitutional law assures you that it’s not only fine but worthy, do you listen? Or do you cleave to the fear-mongering of Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton or Pauline Hanson, or the ugly screeds in the Murdoch press and Sky News, or the illiterate bogan posting unhinged bile on social media?
Ask yourself when have any of the above EVER been on the right side of history? Their default position is no to everything.
Thirdly, there are no ‘hidden clauses’ in the Voice. The design principles are unambiguous and very simple:
The Voice will provide independent advice to parliament and government – the key word here is ‘advice’. Not power of veto. Not final say. They can impart advice and advice only. That’s it.
The representatives of the Voice will be chosen by First Nations people based on the wishes of their local communities, and representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – in other words, it will be democratic.
The Voice will be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful, culturally informed and gender-balanced, and it will also include the youth – which is to say, it will be FAIR.
The Voice will be accountable and transparent – it will act responsibly with clear processes.
Many people campaigning for the negative have stated vehemently that voting “NO” is not racist. Hmmm... perhaps not. But what is undeniable — and even they will have to accept this — is that all the actual racists will DEFINITELY be voting no.
Knowing this to be true, whose side will YOU pick, and how will you tell your children or grandchildren you voted in the years and decades to come? I’d argue the choice is pretty stark.
The very last thing I will say is this…
Our First Nations peoples are the oldest human culture in the world. That’s something every single Aussie can and should feel proud of. I’d also argue it’s a much nobler thing to turn out for and rally behind than the anniversary of a failed battle on some obscure Turkish beachfront. Or a cruel horse race. Or a footy game. Or a barbecue with flag-capes. It’s a living history we should preserve, celebrate and nurture.
All of which is why now is the time we can choose to come together and say, “We recognise you were here first. You deserve a say in the things that matter to you, your communities and your children. We want you here. We want you to thrive alongside us.”
The Voice is a symbolic step towards making that peace.
Fundamentally, it cannot hurt. But it will help. It will heal.