Speaking at a festival recently, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese proposed a referendum to create an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Specifically, the proposal is that the following three sentences be added to the Australian Consitution Act of 1901
1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to parliament and the executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
3. The parliament shall, subject to this constitution, have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
One of the ‘arguments’ that are brandied about concerning the Voice is ‘lack of detail’. The government is not being precise in its definitions of what these changes would mean in practice. This claim can be laid to rest if one reads the report that serves as the basis for the Voice. In this piece I want to provide some of the ‘missing detail’ by quoting from and analysing the report. Since the media will seemingly not do its job, somebody has to.
The Details, Part One: What the National Voice Actually Is
The National Voice would serve as a body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to both the parliament and the government. It would comprise ‘a small body’ of members. The National Voice is an extension of (and chosen from) Regional and Local Voices. In this way, Regional and Local Voices function like local, state, and federal governments. Each represents an increasingly larger territory. This should belie any claim that the National Voice is some kind of ‘fifth column’ in Australian democracy. The Voice is based on the same model, with its members chosen locally.
Members of the Local & Regional Voices within each
state and territory would collectively determine
National Voice members from their respective
This answers any questions about how members would be chosen. It is an entirely local process decided upon by ATSI citizens.
The Details, Part Two: Accountability and Member Removal
Another question I must confess I had before reading the relevant section of the report was about accountability and the potential removal of Voice members. The report addresses these issues as follows
[The process for removal should include these steps]
- Alerting the member to the issue that may
lead to the removal;
- Alerting the member to their risk of removal
and the process that will now be followed;
- Consideration of the issue and a decision
made on whether to remove;
- Opportunity for the member to address
- Steps put in place to mitigate the issue if
required or remove a member; and
- Review processes that would give an
opportunity for the member to seek review of
the decision, in line with protocols agreed for
A detailed process indeed. An interesting procedural countermeasure to the outrage mob that has brought about the resignation of certain parliamentary members. Of particular note is point number four, the opportunity for the member to address the issue (and presumably maintain their spot if the issue were an honest mistake). Sam Dastyari and Peter Slipper may have benefitted from something like this, but I digress.
The Details, Part Three: Term limits
The issue of term limits for members is addressed in this way
No set length of terms is being proposed for
members of Local & Regional Voices; rather, this
is to be left open for community consideration
as part of the design of the structure
It is truly amazing how much detail the media has overlooked. In their defense, the report is dense but this is the life you chose. Your responsibility is to inform the people, and obscuring details does not serve this end. One could be forgiven for thinking that the media has an agenda here: scuttle the idea of the National Voice since that is the position of their overlords and political allies. The respective motivations are different, of course: political conservatives despise social change/progress and the media makes money off social division, but the result is the same. This is perhaps a little cynical, but in this day and age, one can never be too careful.
Hell of a Hill to Die On: The Opposition
The ‘detail’ argument forms a considerable part of the opposition to the National Voice. Indeed, the very nature of the opposition says a great deal about the more – regressive – parts of our society.
Consider this extract from the report
Only a tiny minority of people said there should
not be a National Voice. This opposition was mainly
expressed through submissions from a campaign of
considerably similar submissions, as well as other
individual submissions, such as the submission from
the Institute of Public Affairs rather than many
divergent opposing views
The report makes clear that the ‘tiny minority’ of detractors is about 2% of responders. In terms of the description in the report, the phrasing is a little clunky, but the point is clear. Considerably similar submissions made up the opposition ‘input’ to the discussion. In other words, the opposition was an astroturf campaign consisting of reading the talking points rather than actual opposition. Speculation? Maybe, but the Institute of Public Affairs, a far-right ideological ‘think tank’, is not known for its reasonable takes. It is almost as if the opposition submissions were copied and pasted. Thank you for your input. Please do not call us. We will call you.
Conclusion: Devils Obsessed With Detail
The details of this report, which inform the available details around the National Voice, are plentiful. Contrary to what the opposition is saying, this project is not vague and does not lack detail. I encourage anyone who is interested to read the report linked above. In spite of how I have criticised the media here, the burden still falls on proponents of this fine idea to sell it. The details that the detractors are looking for are present in the report. Not that I believe they would actually listen to and accept those details (since that was never the point), but at least you can say you tried.
Forward, Mr. Prime Minister.
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