“I fear entrenching a separate, unelected Voice in the constitution would diminish the power of those elected members and the people they represent,” says JEREMY HANSON.
ON principal, I believe we shouldn’t change the constitution to entrench any racially based entity that treats one group of Australians differently to other Australians.
As a nation, we have worked tirelessly to treat every individual equally, regardless of race, colour or creed.
I do not support something I consider to be taking Australia backwards by institutionalising racial division in our founding document.
We are all Australian and each of us has a voice that represents all of us equally, it is the Australian Parliament.
There are currently 11 indigenous federal members, which proportionally outnumbers non-indigenous parliamentarians. This is something I celebrate, and I fear entrenching a separate, unelected Voice in the constitution would diminish the power of those elected members and the people they represent.
The solutions to the undeniable disadvantage faced by some, but certainly not all, indigenous Australians are in my view not to be found by creating race-based constitutional division.
The Voice is already creating division across Australia and, in particular, amongst indigenous Australians. On Australia Day in Canberra, representatives of the Tent Embassy led protests against the Voice. Indigenous senator Lidia Thorpe resigned as a member of the Greens because of her opposition to the Voice and Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price from Alice Springs is also campaigning strongly against it.
Indigenous Australians in remote Australia have disputed the idea that their very diverse communities can be represented by a group of appointed people as a single voice.
Jacinta Price, who is married to an Australian of Scottish descent, has described to me how the Voice is something that risks division between families and within marriages.
This is not just a debate about the principle. This would be a deeply significant change to the constitution, and the inclusion of “executive government” in the Voice risks an ongoing legal quagmire of High Court challenges. Beyond its potential legal powers, the Voice will also wield significant political power.
The prime minister has admitted that only a “very brave government” would disagree with the Voice on certain policy issues. I believe that no group of unelected Australians should ever wield such legal and political power.
It concerns me that the prime minister has refused to provide sufficient detail about the Voice or release the solicitor-general’s advice and the referendum has been set up to limit debate.
Both sides of the debate won’t be funded as was the case for the republic referendum, and in an overt act of undemocratic bias, initially any donations to the “yes” case tax were deductible but not for the “no” case. This has eroded trust not just in the Voice but in the whole fairness of the referendum process.
The refusal to create a Voice by legislation before demanding a referendum is generating distrust about why a referendum is being pursued.
My suspicion is that the Voice is being presented as some utopian panacea, to solve the great disadvantage faced by indigenous Australians, but will not actually progress closing the gap.
It is hard for me to see how yet another advisory body on the back of other failed models, such as ATSIC, will make any real difference.
A logical and less divisive way forward has been proposed by the federal opposition, which would provide recognition for indigenous Australians in the constitution and establish regional and local voices through an act in parliament. I support this approach.
I believe we should all commit to work together to respond to our indigenous peoples with recognition and with legislation but not allow a race-based change to the constitution to divide us.
MLA Jeremy Hanson is the deputy leader of the ACT opposition and was, among other portfolios, Liberal spokesperson for indigenous affairs (2008-2012).
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