Senator Jacqui Lambie has quite rightly urged the government to quit the symbolism and give us the facts. Like many, she has wondered how a government so fixed on a Voice for our first Australians could be so stupid as to let laws banning grog sales in remote Aboriginal communities lapse.
THE proposed referendum aimed at giving Aboriginal people a voice to the Federal Parliament is likely to fail, or is being unwittingly set up to fail.
This is a great shame. There appears to be a ground swell of goodwill among a majority of Australians who want to fix things like the date of Australia Day and Aboriginal poverty.
Buoyed by stellar poll numbers Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is pushing ahead with the referendum, while suggesting the process should not be bogged down with detail.
In contrast, his Indigenous Affairs Minister, Linda Burney, wisely supports more detail being made available, certainly before the referendum.
If you haven't a clue what I'm writing about, then I rest my case.
It is indeed uplifting to see First Nation people getting a far better deal than their ancestors got 240 years ago.
The May 1967 referendum, to elevate our first Australians to citizenship status relating to federal laws and recognition, was passed with a thumping 90.77 per cent majority.
It was a well-managed referendum campaign that explicitly familiarised Australians with what was being proposed.
It's pretty impressive, that just as the White Australia policy was in its dying throes, a huge majority of Australians supported our first Australians with such a profound verdict.
I can't see it happening now. The bar on referendums is set pretty high, requiring a majority across the nation plus a majority in a majority of states.
Of 44 proposed changes in 19 referenda since 1901 only eight have passed.
There's time for more detail ahead of a likely referendum date next year, but it requires the government doing a lot more to sell the rationale for change to the nation.
Once the detail is written into the Constitution it can't be changed without a further referendum. By then it's too late.
According to the PM the referendum question will be simply:
"Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?"
If it's carried the Constitution will include three new statements
- There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
- 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.
- 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.
At face value these supposedly benign provisions retain the supremacy of parliament to accept or reject proposals from the Voice.
But, will the Voice have veto power on some issues, and how many members? How are they to be chosen? Will parliament retain the right to initiate and hold inquiries into proposals from the Voice?
In a May pre-election debate Foreign Minister Penny Wong was quoted as saying: "We will ensure First Nations peoples have a stronger voice in our engagement with the world, deepening their long-held ties across countries of the Indo-Pacific."
If the Voice even extends to foreign policy then its influence, if not power, will have no boundaries.
The basis for the referendum stems from the 2017 Uluru Statement of the Heart, which said in part:
"We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish they will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country. We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution."
So the framers of this statement knew what they were doing - empowerment.
Therefore, just exactly what do they get? Power? A race-based veto or influence over the laws of the land?
It's up to Albanese to not just reassure us but also guarantee that deliberations of the Voice are a recommendation and not a commandment.
Like any normal, reasonable Australian I'm up for this constitutional milestone but not if the Voice is going to undermine the supremacy of parliament.
And, while the Voice may be limited to making recommendations, just imagine the power of these innocent recommendations once the media got hold of it and turned it into a battle for supremacy between parliament and the Voice.
Senator Jacqui Lambie has quite rightly urged the government to quit the symbolism and give us the facts.
Like many, she has wondered how a government so fixed on a Voice for our first Australians could be so stupid as to let laws banning grog sales in remote Aboriginal communities lapse.
I would also add the axing of the cashless social security card, that was instrumental in preserving a portion of social security payments, so that kids had food and an education, instead of the money being spent on booze, smokes and drugs.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.