I got into an online argument with a person who basically said that because he did not know what the Voice to Parliament entailed, he was going to vote ‘no’ in the referendum. I effectively told him that he was either gullible, illiterate, or a racist. I was wrong. I should have included ‘thick’ among those epithets because he was apparently incapable of finding out what the Voice to Parliament actually comprised. I sent him numerous sources where you could find out what was in it. These included articles from Reconciliation Australia1, The Guardian2, and the Law Society Journal3, among others, all of which took me a few minutes to find. After I sent these to him, he went away. It is unlikely that he would actually read these; the wilfully ignorant are like that. The fact that this person did not have the wherewithal to find this information says much about him, one way or another. It is something that amazes me. The internet is a place where a reasonable proportion of humanity’s knowledge is a few keystrokes away and muppets like this person are incapable of finding anything even as current as this, which is just about everywhere. They are prime candidates for racist scare campaigns such as we are seeing now.
I have been asked a few times why it needs to be written into the constitution. This is so the advisory body cannot be abolished at the whim of politicians. While I knew that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission had been abolished by the Howard government, there have been several others given the boot. Wil Stracke, assistant secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, went through the list of abolished organisations4.
These organisations included the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, which was established in 1973 by the Whitlam government. It was abolished by the Fraser government in 1977 and replaced by the National Aboriginal Conference in 19785. Both were advisory bodies with members elected by Indigenous peoples, just like the Voice to Parliament will be. The Fraser government’s National Aboriginal Conference was known for its recommendation of a form of treaty between Aboriginal peoples and the Australian Government, using the Yolngu word ‘makarrata’ to describe this. Relations between the Conference and the government progressively deteriorated over the course of its life, and the Conference was eventually abolished by the Hawke Government in 19856.
The National Aboriginal Conference was replaced by The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) which was established as an independent statutory authority in 1990, following legislation passed by the Hawke government in 1989. It was stated to be in recognition of Indigenous aspirations to be involved in government decision-making processes that affected Indigenous peoples. In addition to its advisory role, it ran programs and delivered services. It consisted of 35 regional councils around Australia of 10-20 councillors elected every three years, who would elect a representative to sit on a national commission on which sat a government-appointed chair, deputy chair and chief executive7.
ATSIC was abolished by the Howard government, and when announcing its abolition, Howard said the “experiment in separate representation […] for Indigenous people has been a failure”. Of course, he provided no evidence of this failure, and indeed, ATSIC proved to be a convenient scapegoat. The Howard government’s own report into ATSIC said: “Time and again ATSIC had been used as a scapegoat for poor Indigenous affairs outcomes […] many mainstream services and program providers avoid accountability, preferring to leave the impression that ATSIC is at fault”7.
In 2010, the Rudd government created and funded the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. Despite being promised funding in the 2015-16 forward estimates, the Abbott government withdrew funding almost immediately on gaining office in 2013. The Congress then entered a fee-for-service agreement with the government, allowing the organisation to stay afloat, but this forced staff cuts and a reduction of services. However, it could not continue and entered into voluntary administration in June 20198.
Unlike all these previous advisory bodies, having a Voice to Parliament written into the constitution will prevent such a voice being abolished, as they have been previously, because it cannot be abolished at the whim of politicians, but by a referendum being put to the people. And it is the whim of politicians which has become more dangerous now with the importation of American white-supremacist christofascism into Australian political life. That importation began with the Howard government and continued under Abbott, Turnbull and, worst of all, Morrison. Anyone who can remember an interview with John Howard where he held up a map of Australia and stated that with the Mabo and Wik decisions that some 78% of Ausralia’s land was ‘under threat’ of any development being vetoed9,10. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, just like all the other fear campaigns used by conservatives whenever anything vaguely progressive is attempted. That is what is happening now with the lies and other tactics spread by the ‘No’ campaign.