We are on sunny Magnetic Island in far North Queensland for an extended period, before embarking on a package tour of Arnhem Land and then returning to NZ early October
The weather is truly wonderful and the media is a nice change from NZ. I listen and watch the ABC and read The Australian. Both excellent operations with one left of centre and the other right.
Like most if not all countries colonised by a European nation whose citizens stayed and dominated government, Australia’s relationship with its indigenous population has been troubled. For more than 50 years Australian governments have tried to improve public policy and help the indigenous population, but few believe they have got the formula right despite spending billions.
The Albanese government is proposing that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders would have a Voice in Parliament courtesy of an amendment to their Constitution which requires a referendum. The Voice would be able to comment on issues relevant to the indigenous population. It would not have a vote
This proposal has been long coming. Unlike NZ, indigenous Australians were not involved in creating the Federation in 1901 and were not properly recognised until after the 1967 referendum which was passed with 90pc support
When announcing the proposed referendum Albanese did not provide details as to how it would operate, out of a concern that some might get obsessed with the detail, and thus vote against the very simple constitutional proposal. He argues that as governments cannot bind their successors it is not necessary to provide all the detail as to how it would work
It should be noted that currently their are 11 indigenous people in the Australian Parliament. Technically they of course represent their constituents not just indigenous voters so it can be argued this 60,000 year old civilisation does not have not have the voice it deserves. While many live mainstream aboriginals live near major centres, there are still many thousands in the real outback in WA, Queensland and the Northern Territory
Clearly there is a lot of public support for the constitutional change long sought by many but not all indigenous leaders and others
What’s interesting though is to read the well argued cases against the proposal including from some indigenous leaders.
The case against includes the following points
We should have the detail as to how it would be constructed and operate before voting on the simple principles
Whether an activist High Court might strike down state or federal laws or administrative decisions on the basis they breached the constitution
Will it effectively be a third chamber
This could be the end of democracy as currently understood
Will it in the real world improve the position of indigenous people as distinct from providing employment opportunities for those actively involved.
One such critic is Country Liberal Senator for the Northern Territory Jacinta Price, an indigenous women from the outback. Referring to past attempts at improving life for Aborigines she said in The Australian, “We have every right to question, seek clarity, or outright disagree with a vague proposal that’s being sold as a completely new approach to resolving disadvantage. There is zero proof the voice proposition will be successful. ATSIC and the many bureaucracies are testament to to the likelihood of it failing; but enshrining it in the Constitution determines if it should fail it can never be dismantled”
She recommends if the government wants to create a Voice it legislate for it first to see if can work.
The interesting aspect of the debate is Jacinta has been engaged in a vigorous debate with Sydney based commentator Peter Fitzsimons’s who she alleges tried to bully her and says she is out of touch. This from his rather expensive Sydney dwelling.
The debate so far including letters to the editor is mostly respectful and civilised. Hectares of newsprint has been used to convey many different views.
But what has struck us is the incredible contrast with NZ. Our media has wilfully refused to drill into and tease out what’s going on with numerous policy directions, which to me look like strangling the essential elements of a quality democracy.
When it comes to discussing these critical issues Australia is light years ahead.