The Voice is an invitation to the Australian people

Jan 17, 2023
Aboriginal drawing in red sand in central Australia.

The nation is approaching a watershed decision. Are we brave enough to try and correct the wrongs of the past?

The Voice. These two simple words have unleashed a manufactured storm. For me they set running a kaleidoscope of scenes:

  • Captain Cook’s arrival
  • The astonishment of the people already here
  • Cook’s abandonment of his instructions to engage with those people and reach agreements
  • Cook’s misleading correspondence with British leadership
  • Britain’s consequent failure to acknowledge the continent was already settled
  • Britain’s assumption of ownership on the basis that Australia was ‘Terra Nullius’ – unoccupied!
  • And of course Britain’s failure to conclude Treaty/s with the First Nations Peoples as they did in Canada, the USA, and next door at New Zealand.
  • And the final picture of around one hundred and twenty years ago of a group of old men drafting a Constitution (were Aborigines trying to look through the windows?)
  • Prime Minister Howard being shunned by Indigenous people in Melbourne
  • Prime Minister Rudd’s Apology

These are the facts that dismay and gnaw at First Nations peoples. And their sense of justice has been stretched over 240 years to the limit by broken promises, endless enquiries, shifting goalposts, changing governments.

The last fifty years or so

The ideas around a national representative body for First Nations peoples, a treaty, truth telling are not new. There was talk of a Makarrata in the 1970s, Prime Minister Hawke promised a treaty in 1988. Prime Minister Howard promised a preamble to the Constitution. None of this happened. All these promises were broken; all these undertakings were reneged on.

Then we embarked on eleven separate Inquiries about how we might amend the Constitution. And finally, First Nations peoples themselves spent about five years on an exhaustive consultation program from one end of the country to the other to establish a consensus view.

The ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART is what emerged from this work.

In my view it is a beautiful document. It will be read in 1000 years’ time with wonder.

Yet politicians like Messrs. Turnbull, Morrison, Joyce (who later backflipped) and Littleproud dismissed it for crude political reasons. This was the ultimate insult imaginable to Indigenous people. Flipping the bird with both hands.

But in important ways this insulting rudeness was irrelevant.

The ULURU STATEMENT was not offered to politicians.

It was and is an invitation to the Australian people.

It was and is for the people, NOT the politicians, to decide this crucial matter.

Questions for the Australian people

Prime Minister Albanese has said the Referendum proposal should be about the principle, the details being a matter for the Parliament.

Opposition Leader Dutton wants the detail before he considers the principle.

Mr Littleproud, the leader of the minor party in the Coalition Opposition has declared his members – the MPs in seats held by the National party who are there to represent particular Australians – are required to vote No.

Mr Albanese is not handling the Opposition’s peevish obstructionism well. He has pointed out there is plenty of detail in the Langton/Calma Report (but not which parts he agrees/disagrees with), and recently said more detail will be provided prior to the Referendum.

Instead of conceding Dutton’s demand, he should explain that it is for the Parliament including Mr Dutton’s and Mr Littleproud’s party members to consider, negotiate and decide the details – the shape and form of The Voice – and that will happen but only once the principle is placed into the constitution to allow it to be created.

Let’s test the claim about ‘needing’ detail.

What, for example, does the Constitution say about the High Court?

“71. Judicial power and Courts. The judicial power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in the Federal Supreme Court, to be called the High Court of Australia, and in such other courts as the Parliament creates, and in such other courts it invests with federal jurisdiction. The High Court shall consist of a Chief Justice, and so many other justices, not less than two, as the Parliament prescribes.”

We can see that the Constitution simply creates the power for a body to exist – a body that cannot simply be ignored or dismantled. What shape that body takes and what specific role it has can and will change over time, and the Parliament will debate and decide that.  Today, for example, the High Court has 7 not the original 3 judges, and Parliament has decided that.

Let me repeat. “Parliament creates,” “Parliament prescribes”. As the Prime Minister originally said, agree the principle, the detail is for the Parliament.

A national representative body

We had many such bodies, I have worked with all of them, and they have all been ignored, perverted dismantled and then abandoned by Governments of the time. It is reasonable, as first step towards a formal Treaty, for First Nations peoples to want to make the next body more secure, and at the same time correct history – they were here first.

It is also reasonable that they have an active role in the development of policies such as housing education and health which currently affect many of them adversely. Settler Australians have had 240 years of developing such policies FOR Indigenous people. These have been very largely ineffective – if not actively damaging. It is time for Indigenous people to have direct involvement IN developing the policies that affect them.

We all want to help ourselves do we not?

The politics

Given the mischievous role played by the mainstream media these days in pushing its own agenda, and some extreme elements of social media, the Government must debunk fiction with facts.

The facts are that Australians will vote directly at the referendum only on the principle of the creation of The Voice. The Parliament, the representative members, will decide on the detail of The Voice AFTER the principle is put into the Constitution.

The referendum will decide the principle: that is all.

The Opposition Leader Mr Dutton’s line about voting on Saturday, and finding out the details on Monday, could be very damaging but only if much of the media continues to mislead Australians by pandering to Dutton’s mischief.

So, to the Referendum

Many, many things turn on the outcome of the Referendum to be conducted later this year.

For me it holds the potential to correct the illegitimacy of the occupation of this continent, while finally connecting the three parts of our human settlement:

  • 60,000+ years of First Nations occupation
  • 250 years of primarily British settlement
  • 70 years of post-war immigration from around the world

We need to do this to secure our National identity.

Will this correct all of our societal faults? Of course not, but it will remove many of the historical and psychological impediments.


First published January 14, 2023 in the Alice Springs News.

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