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The Voice to Parliament: Why the ‘Detail’ Argument is Bunk

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.

Specifically

Members of the Local & Regional Voices within each
state and territory would collectively determine
National Voice members from their respective
jurisdictions

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]

  1. Alerting the member to the issue that may
    lead to the removal;
  2. Alerting the member to their risk of removal
    and the process that will now be followed;
  3. Consideration of the issue and a decision
    made on whether to remove;
  4. Opportunity for the member to address
    the issue;
  5. Steps put in place to mitigate the issue if
    required or remove a member; and
  6. Review processes that would give an
    opportunity for the member to seek review of
    the decision, in line with protocols agreed for
    the region

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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6 comments

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  1. Michael Taylor

    Surprise surprise. Tony Abbott is also against it.

  2. margcal

    It’s difficult to find anything that is offensive in the three-sentence proposal so it will be interesting to see how the LN P will twist their knickers.

    It gives the colonised people of Australia an opportunity to give their opinions to parliament. They Voice doesn’t get a vote and there is no guarantee that what is said will be acted on or even considered.

    From an Aboriginal point of view, I’d have thought the proposal is so inoffensive as to be next to meaningless.

    Any legislated details, now or in the future, could easily be changed with any change of government… not always for the better, as we’ve seen over the past decade. But that is a risk that must be taken.

  3. Mark Needham

    How do some in Australia have a voice, yet others do not…?

    Or is the question not correct, should it be.

    Why are there some in Australia with a louder voice..?

  4. Stephengb

    Look I am cognisant of the way that ATSI have been treated, and continues to be treated, but I am failing to actually see the point of this “Voice to Parliament” institution.

    I have heard that it would prevent the institute being cancelled by a government repealing legislation that enables such an institution, and I see the sense of that, hence I am sympathetic to the reason for using the Constitution to enable such an institution.

    However we have to consider the fact that an institution enabled by Constitution is actually a very powerful institution.

    I believe, that it makes good sense that the enabling legislation for our institutions should only be made by parliament, and that it is a good thing.

    Currently legislation that enables all institutions (except Parliament itself) are repealable, and in my view this is not only a good thing, but actually democratic, because an institution that has power by Constitution would have the same power of establishment as that which enables the establishment of our “Parliament “.

    The Constitution gives authority to parliament to make laws for the good governance of the country, I would suggest that the High Court of Australia would find it hard to not acknowledge the power of the “voice to Parliament ” once enabled by our Constitution.

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