One Nation will oppose the introduction of a ‘Voice to Parliament’. But will Scott Morrison guarantee the Liberals will too?
Every single Liberal needs to be asked whether they will support this Labor/Greens plan and cross the floor?
The Voice to Parliament is a divisive and racist campaign being wagered by Labor, and the Greens who are calling for specific recognition of indigenous people in the Australian Constitution and legislating a third tier of parliament called, ‘Voice to Parliament’.
Our Constitution is a great achievement. It reflects the establishment of a great nation.
The people of distant colonies gathered together in the 1890s and drafted a Constitution which has mostly served the nation very well over the past 130 years. This is remarkable because the architects of the Constitution could not foresee many of the events and developments that would shape Australia and change how it was governed.
In the 1890s, indigenous Australians weren’t recognised as citizens. They didn’t participate in the constitutional conventions, and they weren’t eligible to vote in the referenda held by each colony to approve the constitution. They were not alone in being excluded from the process.
In every state except South Australia and Western Australia, women didn’t get to have their say on the Constitution either. In some cases in the 1890s, voting eligibility required some form of property ownership so not even all men had their say.
Over time the right to vote was extended to all Australian adults. Indigenous Australians had to wait until 1962 for the right to enrol and vote in federal elections.
Even then, matters were not completely equal – enrolment wasn’t compulsory for aborigines as it was for everyone else. This change didn’t happen until 1984. Over time the right to vote was extended to all Australian adults.
Indigenous Australians had to wait until 1962 for the right to enrol and vote in federal elections. In 1967 of course, Australians voted strongly in favour of removing racist elements of the Constitution that were specific about indigenous people.
This historic referendum meant removing the reference to “the aboriginal race” in Section 51 of the Constitution, and altogether removed Section 127 so that indigenous Australians could be counted in the national census. As a result, the Constitution today is colour-blind.
Every Australian adult is equal under the Constitution regardless of their race. That’s the way it should be. Equality before the law is one of the most important foundations of democracy. Without it, there is no democracy.
One adult; one vote. It’s the only way that’s free and fair.
There have been 44 referenda held to change our Constitution, and the 1967 referendum is the most well-known. It was a catalyst for many changes in how Australia treated aborigines, and it was also remarkable for the 90% vote in favour of change because few referenda are ever passed.
The campaigns for specific indigenous recognition in our Constitution threaten to undo this tremendous achievement. They place at risk the positive steps taken towards reconciliation since that historic moment. They seek to make our Constitution a racist document once more by again singling out a specific race of people to be treated differently than other Australians. That isn’t progress. It’s regression.
Noel Pearson says constitutional recognition is needed because he believes Australia “does not recognise its indigenous peoples”. That simply isn’t true.
Flags representing indigenous Australians are flown everywhere.
It seems you can’t even start a meeting in Australia without formally acknowledging indigenous people, and you can’t hold an event without paying for a welcome-to-country ceremony.
Our children learn about indigenous Australia in school – even learning to speak indigenous languages. They’re also being taught critical race theory so they feel guilt and shame for being white.
Canberra, the nation’s capital city, gets its name from an indigenous word. Many other places in Australia do too. Some iconic locations have even had their names changed to indigenous words – we don’t call it Ayers Rock anymore, and we’re not allowed to climb it anymore.
Our anthem was also recently changed in recognition of indigenous sensitivities.
We have ministers and whole government departments dedicated to aboriginal affairs. Buckets of taxpayer money are spent directly on indigenous people; it’s around 44 thousand dollars per indigenous Australian while it’s only around 24 thousand per non-indigenous Australian.
We even have the Closing the Gap report delivered by the Prime Minister each year to report on indigenous progress against national benchmarks – or, more accurately, the lack of progress despite the many billions of dollars thrown at the issue.
To suggest Australia doesn’t already recognise its indigenous people is ridiculous.
In fact, the Constitution itself already recognises indigenous people without referring to them specifically.
The Constitution has many references to the “people” and “electors”.
Today that means every voting adult in Australia, indigenous or otherwise.
The question which everyone is avoiding is this: who will be eligible to vote for delegates in the proposed voice?
Since 1971 the number of people identifying as indigenous in the national census has risen from approximately 116,000 to 800,000. That’s an increase of 590 percent.
Is that how indigenous eligibility will be decided, by people ticking a box in a survey?
Let me enlighten a lot of people about the working definition of an indigenous person used by Australian governments.
“Aboriginal means a person who is:
• a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia;
• identifies as an Aboriginal; and
• is accepted by the Aboriginal community as an Aboriginal.”
If this is the working definition, it’s no wonder so many more people are identifying as indigenous to claim the benefits this government provides exclusively to indigenous people.
How will eligibility be defined, and nepotism stopped in its tracks, for electing the ‘voice’?
We must also remember that elected representation exclusively for aboriginal people has been tried before.
In my first speech in this building 25 years ago I highlighted the failures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and called for it to be abolished.
ATSIC was dysfunctional, corrupt, and rife with nepotism and lack of accountability which still plague the aboriginal industry today.
It took another eight long, unproductive years for the Coalition government to realise these failures and abolish ATSIC, with bipartisan support.
To this day I’m hearing from true indigenous people who are crying out for the industry to be audited and held accountable for the billions of dollars it has wasted for no real, tangible benefits to them or improvements to the conditions in which they live.
If a ‘voice to Parliament’ is placed in our Constitution, Australians won’t have the option to abolish it like was done with ATSIC.
It’s no wonder the unaccountable aboriginal industry is campaigning for it, but some feedback from the consultation process suggests many are sceptical that recognition or a ‘voice to Parliament’ will do anything to make a practical difference in their lives.
Many of us want policies which deliver practical outcomes that make a positive difference for aborigines, not more of the same failures and not more of the same useless symbolism.
That’s where the focus of this parliament should be.
Those politicians in this place campaigning for a constitutional ‘voice to Parliament’ for indigenous people seem to forget there are already 227 voices representing indigenous people in this Parliament, let alone those who identify as aboriginal, including one who is the minister for aboriginal affairs.
If you think more representation to Parliament is needed for indigenous people then you haven’t been doing your jobs representing them.
You’re not listening to indigenous people or, for that matter, the rest of your constituents.
They’re becoming fatigued by a reconciliation process with no real progress and no end in sight.
They’re tired of being unfairly shamed as racist colonial occupiers.
They’re becoming cynical at an aboriginal industry only interested in money, power, division, and fostering a culture of perpetual victimhood.
They understand that what indigenous people need is empowerment – not as a race, but as individuals – to address their own disadvantage.
This means an education and opportunities which enable them to fully participate in the national economy and in Australian society.
Where taxpayer support is needed to help make this happen, it should be provided based on an individual’s need and not their skin colour.
Isn’t that the dream of Martin Luther King Junior?
That people will be judged on the content of their character, not the colour of their skin?
Finally, a note of warning: if we recognise prior indigenous ownership in the Constitution and then, one day, become a republic, the High Court could be forced to rule the Crown’s former sovereignty over Australia only belongs to indigenous people as native title holders rather than every Australian.
With 32% of Australia already under native title, is that the outcome we really want? No.
Australia belongs to every Australian equally.
Indigenous people, the early convicts and settlers, and the many migrants who came here from all over the world have all contributed to the great success story that is Australia. Australia belongs to all of us.
As that great Australian export Paul Hogan said in ‘Crocodile Dundee’:
“Aborigines don’t own the land. They belong to it. It’s like their mother. See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years. Still be there when you and I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.”
It’s our nation, together. That’s what One Nation stands for.