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One Finite Planet

Flawed Australian voice of Indigenous People referendum: The irony of a voice campaign that failed to listen.

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A tragic lost opportunity. Why didn't those proposing the voice make changes to remove ambiguity and eliminated enough of the negative perception to win over enough support instead of simply declaring" "No, if that is how you see it you are either racist or stupid!" Was it just that there was no willingness to listen?

Australians had an opportunity in a constitutional referendum to righteously shout loudly "I am not a racist" by voting for a proposition that, at its core, could be seen as fundamentally flawed, divisive and even potentially racist, in the hope even a risk of moving in the direction of apartheid is still better than nothing.

The referendum resulted in a huge setback for action on indigenous disadvantage and while it did seem unlikely to do anything to unify Australians and offer more than some possible affirmative action, the division resulted with even sometimes "yes" voters being encouraged to also be racist.

This is a deeper look trying to see each side from the perspective of the other, with the reality that both sides had a point, and a vast majority of people do want equality and unity.

Perhaps it little more work could bring things together and offer a fresh enough perspective to move beyond just another well-intentioned patronising racism failure like the stolen generations?

Flawed Australian voice of Indigenous People referendum: The irony of a voice campaign that failed to listen.

A tragic lost opportunity. Why didn't those proposing the voice make changes to remove ambiguity and eliminated enough of the negative perception to win over enough support instead of simply declaring" "No, if that is how you see it you are either racist or stupid!" Was it just that there was no willingness to listen?

Australians had an opportunity in a constitutional referendum to righteously shout loudly "I am not a racist" by voting for a proposition that, at its core, could be seen as fundamentally flawed, divisive and even potentially racist, in the hope even a risk of moving in the direction of apartheid is still better than nothing.

The referendum resulted in a huge setback for action on indigenous disadvantage and while it did seem unlikely to do anything to unify Australians and offer more than some possible affirmative action, the division resulted with even sometimes "yes" voters being encouraged to also be racist.

This is a deeper look trying to see each side from the perspective of the other, with the reality that both sides had a point, and a vast majority of people do want equality and unity.

Perhaps it little more work could bring things together and offer a fresh enough perspective to move beyond just another well-intentioned patronising racism failure like the stolen generations?

A tragic lost opportunity. Why didn’t those proposing the voice make changes to remove ambiguity and eliminated enough of the negative perception to win over enough support instead of othering and simply declaring “No, if that is how you see it you are either racist or stupid!” Was it just that there was no willingness to listen?

Australians had an opportunity in a constitutional referendum to righteously shout loudly “I am not a racist” by voting for a proposition that, at its core, could be seen as fundamentally flawed, divisive and even potentially racist, and othering those fearing that nothing is not better than a risk of moving in the direction of apartheid.

The referendum resulted in a huge setback for action on indigenous disadvantage and while it did seem unlikely to do anything to unify Australians and offer little beyond some possible affirmative action, the division of people resulted with even sometimes “yes” voters being encouraged to also be racist.

This is a deeper look trying to see each side from the perspective of the other, with the reality that both sides had a point and a vast majority of people do want equality and unity.

Perhaps it little more work could bring things together and offer a fresh enough perspective to move beyond just another well-intentioned patronising racism failure like the stolen generations?

Synopsis: a flawed & divisive proposition, but the best on offer?

Australia held a referendum on the question of a “voice to government” for indigenous people. On the surface, surely anyone voting against giving additional rights to the currently tragically disadvantaged indigenous Australians, must be racist? Why don’t these people already have a voice!

Look deeper, and surprisingly, it becomes clear the proposition itself requires discrimination on the basis of race.

The truth is that yes, the proposal is flawed due to ambiguity, and even could be seen to require trying to overcome racism with more racism. At least it is trying something. Voting requires applying the right confirmation bias to the information presented when weighing up the balance of the accepting potentially flawed progress vs inaction.

The big flaw being that the proposed voice differs from others around the world that do work by leaving an ambiguity as to whether indigenous people get a special say in all legislation and government only on issues that have significantly more impact on indigenous people than on the entire population, or an additional voice on any issue even those where indigenous people are no more impacted than are all other citizens.

The “yes” campaign could have cleared up their intention, but if the intention of the campaign was to clearly not wish the voice to have a say on issues that affect all citizens equally, then the wording could have been changed. EDIT: There has been a new poll making it clear that position to give a voice on issues specifically affecting indigenous people would have been supported.

There are passionate supporters of “yes” who do not even see those flaws and therefore believe “no” voters just do not want to help indigenous Australians and thus must all be white supremacists or classic racists. This is classic “othering”. Rather than try and see how “others” are the basically the same as “yes” voters and therefore must be in some way experiencing something different, assume the “no” voters are different and “others”.

Then, among passionate supporters of “no” there are who see those flaws and feel “yes” voters are supporting locking affirmative action into the constitution and creating a new apartheid are inner city patronising racists who protest anything, but never follow up with action to deliver real outcomes.

Which means, right from the outset, both sides of the debate can find a reason to feel outrage. Plus, both sides “yes” and “no” argument will attract followers that stir feelings of outrage. Ironically, this leads to a significant number of both “yes” and “no” supporters both believing that the other side predominantly consist of those that cause them outrage. The same “othering” principle that is behind racism!

But perhaps the “othering” is misplaced, and most people do not hold views as far from those on the other side as echo chambers and confirmation bias has led them to imagine.

While there are also other reasons opinions are divided, a primary reason for division is how deeply people look at the proposal, with many closest to the issues, such as indigenous activists Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine, among the strongest supporters of a “no” vote. The divide will also occur on the basis of state and city vs rural voters, with mostly those voters with greatest distance from the problems the most vocal “yes” supporters.

A key argument in support of “yes” is that looking deeper doesn’t matter, because most people don’t look deeper, and the optics of a “yes” may send a signal of support to indigenous Australians that justifies any potential racial problems or any hypothetical reinforcing of underly racism. “Yes” is a win if optics are more important than substance.

It seems like the majority on both sides have best intentions. The choice is between accepting an imperfect proposition and doing nothing, because no one can find, or would support, a proposition to bring about real change.

Sadly, there is no alternative proposal for a non-race based “voice of the oppressed” or focus on reframing the justice system in a manner that would combat sources of racism, as while be better solutions to disadvantage, they do not create the symbolism desired for the constitutional amendment.

Nor is there a real proposal for anything beyond symbolic recognition of first nations people in the constitution. This could be done, ideally should be done, but would anyone be bold enough to try?

Perhaps the biggest divide is between symbolism and solving disadvantage but let’s hope that more people can at least try to listen with a positive attitude to the opinions of those supporting the other argument.

The proposed voice is flawed and doesn’t need to be.

The flaw of not listening.

I received feedback from my first cut of this page, including one from an indigenous person I know:

“If you are proud of voting yes rather than just hoping you were doing the right thing, then that makes you just another inner-city patronising racist who sees those who disagree with them as racist or stupid and doesn’t care enough to even try to understand any of the reasons people voted no”.

I am trying to see both sides, but am I trying hard enough to listen avoid that branding?

There are different opinions on this such as this one:

IN AUSTRALIA the dominance of the professional indigenes is near-absolute—and the current proposal for an appointed (anointed?) Voice to Parliament will make it completely absolute. In one of the great ironies of indigenous affairs, ordinary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were not consulted on the proposal to create a Voice to Parliament and (by all accounts) will not be consulted on its structure or membership. They will be ‘gifted’ a Voice, not given a voice.

Tellingly, where indigenous Australians do have organised democratic institutions, there has been pushback. In South Australia, most of the state’s native title bodies have protested the creation of a state-level First Nations Voice that is not based on existing indigenous native title bodies. The New South Wales Indigenous Land Council has expressed similar concerns about the proposed national Voice to Parliament.

Troublingly, few people seem to care what these actually existing indigenous voices have to say about ‘the’ Voice. Their parliamentary submissions have gone unaddressed. Their leaders are not sought out for comment by the country’s major newspapers. Their opinions on indigenous matters don’t seem to matter. The land councils—for all their faults, the only democratically organised indigenous representative bodies in Australia—have essentially been ignored in Australia’s ‘Voice’ debates.

The Liberal and Labor parties have both had a crack at the indigenous Voice, and both have proposed mechanisms that involve the appointment of privileged intellectuals to speak to Parliament. Both have, in essence, offered sit-down money to the indigenous rights industry to get them off their backs. Whether Constitutional or merely legislative, no such ‘pretendian’ Voice will ever bring reconciliation to Australia.

The qudarand: What Canada Can Teach Us About ‘Pretendians’

What is the test for “flawed”?

Any proposition to change a countries constitution should have strong support, and all indications this proposition has not gained strong support. There is strong support in Australia for constitutional recognition of indigenous people, and strong support for indigenous people having a voice on “closing the gap” and on issues of indigenous culture, but the voice as presented has not gained support. Why not? Largely because of a failure of those presenting both “yes” and “no” cases to exclude themselves from gains support of racists, resulting in an ambiguous voice and ambiguous objects with both sides guilty of whistleblowing.

Many in favour of the voice see it as being focused on addressing “closing the gap”, while those against the voice fear it appearing to provide additional influence over government on any issue to people of one specific race and as such is divisive.

A voice seen as focused on disadvantage is no way to combat disrespect.

Most people see the voice in its current form as being focused on addressing indigenous disadvantage. Those against the voice proposal arguing that a permanent voice to address disadvantage implies that indigenous people will always be disadvantaged, and those for the voice have said they look forward to the day when indigenous disadvantage has ended and there could be a new referendum to end the voice as it is no longer required.

Even many supporters are seeing the voice as being all about addressing disadvantage, which not only should at some point means the voice would cease to have a reason to exist, but it also means the path chosen to recognise indigenous people is really only recognising they are disadvantaged.

The reality is an ambiguous voice without any clear focus.

The proposal doesn’t make that mistake of defining the voice as being an instrument to help close the gap, but instead makes another mistake of providing only ambiguous guidelines on the purpose of the voice, which creates suspicions that the voice could become another body governing body with as broad a scope as the national parliament, but with voting rights limited on the basis of race.

The proposal wording does state “on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples“, but unlike other cases around the world such as those in Scandinavia, the Australian wording does not define what issues are deemed as “relating”.

The Constitution of Finland recognises the Sami as an indigenous people and their right to self-regulation regarding their language and culture, including the right to use their own language when associating with authorities.

Note how the matters on which the voice apply are specified: Sami Parliaments

The wording in Australia is designed to allow flexibility, allowing for government legislation to be more specific on the goals of a voice. But this is key to the flaw in three ways:

  1. It feeds into fears the voice could result in one group having extra power over all decisions of government thus positioning one racial group as above all others, since most government legislation impacts all citizens including indigenous Australians.
  2. It leaves the voice proposal without any clear goals as to what the voice is designed to acheive.
  3. It promotes the narrative that the voice is solely about overcoming indigenous disadvantage which makes the recognition in the constitution appear to be solely recognition disadvantage.

The fears of the powers of the voice becoming too broad and thus replacing disadvantage with entitlement may somewhat farfetched and largely confirmed by legal opinions to be unlikely, but that doesn’t prevent fear campaigns gaining traction, as even a low risk of a negative outcome is enough to get people to take out insurance. Perhaps some clarity of the goals could have ruled out the impression the voice would become another chamber of national government?

Ambiguity is a key tool in politics, but it can become a key reason people do not trust politicians. Leave a proposition open to interpretation and hope people read into it what they are hoping to see. In a country where politicians have been at odds with the population over such issues as climate change and gay marriage, people may be cynical enough to read into ambiguity what they fear.

A unity proposal to end disadvantage and apartheid?

Consider how in New Zealand, the national sporting team, the “All Blacks“, all, regardless of race or cultural identity, perform the haka:

The team perform a haka before every match; this is a Māori challenge or posture dance. Traditionally the All Blacks use Te Rauparaha‘s haka Ka Mate, although players have also performed Kapa o Pango since 2005.

New Zealand national rugby union team

All players, regardless of their background, perform a dance from the culture of indigenous people, and thus adopt traditions of the indigenous people as part of the culture of the country they are making their home.

Examining past wrongs: was contact wrong or the manner of contact?

While Jacinta Price attracted both critics and supporters with the following words:

When asked whether Indigenous people suffered the consequences of British settlement, Price said: “I’ll be honest: no.”

“A positive impact? Absolutely. I mean, now we’ve got running water, we’ve got readily available food. I mean everything my grandfather had when he was growing up, because he first saw whitefellas in his early adolescence, we now have…

Price says colonialism has been good for Indigenous Australians: SMH Sept 14, 2023.

Although it was expressed in a somewhat inflammatory manner, there is truth in the fact that contact with the global community has brought benefits to indigenous Australians. Life expectancy of indigenous people had risen by 2016 to over 70 years by 2016, which is significantly longer than the less than 40-year life expectancy experienced globally prior to 1800CE. The problem is not that things have not improved for indigenous Australians; it is just that the improvement has not kept pace with the improvement experienced by Australians on average. Average Australin life expectancy is now 5 years greater than that of indigenous Australians, while there may have been zero gap in life expectancy between the British settlers and the indigenous people prior to arrival of the first fleet.

The problem is not that contact with the global community should not have happened at all; it is that it should have happened differently.

There are those who look at the many terrible missteps that occurred following immigration from other countries to Australia and suggest that remaining isolated would have been preferable, but in reality, as transport improved and the movement of people increased, people were going to arrive. The issues is really how arrivals should have been managed.

Biggest problem to addressed: history of colonisation and a lack of respect.

European settlement/colonisation of Australia began in 1788, which was 73 years before the Civil War to abolish slavery in what is now the United States of America. It was a time when racism so strong in European culture that many other races were seen as less than human.

In todays’ world, new immigrants to Australia can bring their own culture, but these immigrants are expected to also learn and respect the existing Australian culture and respect previously established rules.

Just imagine if, back when European settlers arrived, those same principles were followed as far as possible.

Division: Symbolism vs elimination of indigenous disadvantage.

Would a “sunset” clause help align the goals?

The voice has two stated goals:

  1. To reflect the special status of indigenous Australians in the history of the nation.
  2. To work towards the elimination of indigenous disadvantage.

The first is about history and status, and the second is about solving social equality problems. The two don’t mix easily, and this is a major source of divided opinions on the referendum.

The first goal has been shown to be widely accepted, but of the second goal, without a sunset, risks being seen as racist and is less accepted. A sunset such as “a voice until indigenous disadvantage is addressed” would eliminate the racism and the problem of one increasingly difficult to clearly group being granted special status. But a simple sunset but would go against the first goal. Perhaps a voice perpetual voice on the preservation of indigenous culture, and the elimination of indigenous disadvantage?

The special status and history are not at all about race, as argued this article, but unfortunately, the proposal for who qualifies for a scheme to address disadvantage on the basis of an indigenous heritage, does become all about race.

The special status should not have a sunset and should remain in the Australian constitution forever. But if the work towards elimination of disadvantage has no sunset, then there is an underlying assumption that disadvantage can never be overcome. Yes, “affirmative action” to overcome disadvantage has worked in other scenarios despite the “diversity hire” stigma, but this action always has a target which provides a sunset. The only examples that do not have a sunset are schemes to help those with disabilities, and surely the goal is not to put indigenous Australians in that category.

Ideally, there would be a sunset determined by closing the gap on the ability of the voice to address areas that affect equality, but not on matters of cultural heritage.

The USA example of division: State vs state, urban vs rural.

The USA is currently deeply divided between democrats and republicans, with suggestion the county could even need to divide into two nations in the future:

The strains on America’s basic unity are broad and diverse. They include a widening divergence in the basic rules of life between red and blue states on everything from the availability of abortion and guns to what teachers can say in the classroom; sharpening conflicts not only between the states, but among the urban and rural regions within them; a growing tendency of voters in each political coalition to view the other party not only as a political rival but as an “enemy” that threatens their core conception of America; the increasing inability of almost any institution – from the media to federal law enforcement to even consumer products – to retain comparable credibility on both sides of the red-blue divide; more common threats of political violence, predominantly from the right, against local and national officials; and the endurance of Donald Trump as the first leader of a truly mass-scale American political movement who has demonstrated a willingness to subvert small-d democracy to achieve his goals.

Why the US ‘does not get to assume that it lasts forever’

Some have even gone as far as proposing how this would work:

America’s two political tribes have consolidated into ‘red’ and ‘blue’ nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences. Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each. Based on the UN’s partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both ‘red’ and ‘blue’ America.

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue – Big Think

Is Australia also headed in towards being divided like the USA?

The implications for Australia and “the voice”.

The same pattern of divide seen in the USA is reflected in opinions of the voice referendum. The divide between rural areas and cities as well as between states is revery reminiscent of the USA. One of the biggest divides is between people with contact with disadvantaged indigenous Australians, and those in cities who mostly only have contact with indigenous Australian who are not representative of those the who a “yes” vote proposes to assist.

While there is broad agreement more needs to be done to address problems faced by indigenous people, polling suggests Australian are divided on the “voice” proposal. Quite deeply divided.

A big problem is that this age of echo chambers and outrage, often too little effort is given to understand the opposing arguments to even be able to either respect or refute them. This is a look at the “no” arguments from the “yes” perspective and vice versa. While it may not be possible to change many votes, there may be a lot to be gained from having perspectives respected.

While proponents see “the voice” as a significant positive step towards addressing the inequality problem and some even see it as a way of righting past wrongs, opponents see the “voice” as being divisive in itself and perhaps even racist due to focusing on race rather than need, and/or simply another bureaucracy and vehicle people seeking political power with no real ability to improve outcomes for indigenous people.

The problem is that while there is very likely truth in both the “yes” argument and truth in the “no” argument, in this age of outrage, too many people look for why those on the opposing side are wrong rather than look for what they have right. The result is a degree of division that could harm the division harm not only “race relations”, but facture society in general, regardless of whether “yes” or “no” wins the vote.

Is there no existing voice for indigenous people?

The referendum raises many key questions, starting with “how can it be that Australia doesn’t already give indigenous people a voice?

It turns out that in theory all Australians, including indigenous people, so far, have the same voice to government, but it is widely accepted the current voice is not providing solutions.

An admission of a failed political system?

The entire goal of democracy is to give “the people” a voice in how they are governed. At one time indigenous people did not get to vote, and then it was logical they were not given a voice. While democracy, even in Australia, began with a very restricted voter base of landholding males, today, voting in Australia is quite inclusive. If indigenous people have limited “voice” in how Australia is governed, it is not due to a lack of voting rights. A quick search on elected representatives revealed in 2021, revealed that 6 representatives identified as indigenous in 2021, from a total of 227 members (76 senators and 151 members of the house of representatives). This means that time of the 2021 census, 2.65% of parliament at were representing 3.2% of the population. Below parity, but just one more member would result in 3.5% of parliament and have been above parity. Although there has not been a new census, there has been an election since 2021, and at that election the number of indigenous representatives lifted not by 1 more needed for parity, but by 5 new members, almost doubling representation further research reveals the number has increased to 11 representatives, which yields 4.8%!

As of June 2021, the 46th Parliament includes six parliamentarians who identify as Indigenous or as having Indigenous heritage—two members of the House of Representatives and four senators:

Indigenous Australian parliamentarians in federal and state/territory parliaments: a quick guide

As of July 2022, there are 8 senators and 3 members of the House of Representatives who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. They are:

  • Senator Dorinda Cox, Western Australia
  • Senator Patrick Dodson, Western Australia
  • Senator Jacqui Lambie, Tasmania
  • Senator Kerrynne Liddle, South Australia
  • Senator the Hon Malarndirri McCarthy, Northern Territory
  • Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Northern Territory
  • Senator Jana Stewart, Victoria
  • Senator Lidia Thorpe, Victoria
  • The Hon Linda Burney MP, Member for Barton
  • Dr Gordon Reid, Member for Robertson
  • Ms Marion Scrymgour, Member for Lingiari
How many Aboriginal or Torres Straits Islander MPs or Senators are there and what are their names?

Representation in parliament appears to no longer be the problem. Many other ethnic groups have far lower representation in parliament relative to their percentage of the population, and that same problem applies to women, but currently, not to indigenous Australians. Representation, or a “voice”, via parliament has not provided a solution to indigenous disadvantage. Why?

Parliament has been out of step with the Australian people on many issues, and it was even tested that the view of parliament and the Australian people was very much of step with respect to gay marriage, and at odds with a majority of Australian on Climate change.

So, perhaps despite the members in parliament, the government is still not listening to the voice of indigenous Australians?

Despite indigenous representation, perhaps parliament just isn’t listening?

Could it be that because the current level of indigenous representation in parliament is new, or because parliament just doesn’t listen to minorities, or for some other reason, the concept of democracy is not working for indigenous, their needs or their unique insight into solutions?

At the moment, if the government is not listening, then why are they holding this referendum?

Clearly, the current government is certainly trying to listen to indigenous people, which means right now, indigenous Australians do have a voice.

A few things follow from the contradiction that either the proposal was made without consulting indigenous people, or the current government is already listening, and indigenous people do already have a voice:

  • Indigenous people do already have a voice, but having the current voice is not resulting in the required improvement in outcomes.
  • The voice proposed is symbolic to give weight to the recognition in the constitution, and the real hope for change must come from the change of that symbolism.

Is the voice just symbolism?

There has been much debate about whether the voice will be purely symbolic, “toothless“, or dangerously powerful.

Overall, the “voice” treads a fine line, with a statement of recognition alone being deemed to be insufficient and only symbolism, but by adding the “voice”, which itself is arguably seen as symbolic, provides the recognition with more weight.

Tragic disadvantaged indigenous people.

There is almost universal community agreement that indigenous Australians face disadvantage: Descendants of first nations people have worse outcomes than other Australia by many metrics including having shorter lifespans and worse health outcomes, higher incarceration rates, and lower levels of education.

This is in addition to a past history of racism and injustice that is unfortunately typical of countries with colonial past.

Worryingly, there are some who still attribute those poor outcomes to racial differences, even though arguments against race being the real cause are overwhelming. However, opposition to the voice is not restricted to racists, with prominent voices for “no” including some indigenous people who are advocates for indigenous rights such as Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine.

What happens if the voice referendum fails?

A “no” vote will stop the voice being enshrined in the constitution but may not derail it completely. Even no campaigners are open to some form of voice:

However, he states he hasn’t “been won over by it” and adds caveats, including that any voice “needs to come from the ground” and local bodies need to be consolidated before a national voice is created.

Indigenous “no” campaigner” Warren Mundine on the voice: AAP.

But the biggest problem will be that many people will be disappointed feel let down, and people are just not supporting indigenous people.

The voice itself is symbolic, and if there was truth to the idea that only those suffering a problem can provide a solution would imply those suffering cost of living pressures can tackle inflation, or that next time I am ill, rather than a doctor I should seek help from those with the same problem. If no one was trying to listen, the referendum would not have been presented, what is needed is more people regardless of race dedicated to finding solutions and implementing them.

Regardless of the outcome, the referendum has brought the issue to more people’s attention, and the hope is that those with political capital at stake will focus not on division, but action to solve real problems.

The question, and “why this question now?”

The question.

A proposed law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?

Wording of the referendum question.

Polling results reveal that people are divided on whether to support the proposal, with stronger initial support that has waned.

The declining support may be due to it being describe as “the voice referendum”, as opposed to “the recognition referendum”, with indications being that whilst recognition is strongly supported, the principle of the voice has significantly weaker support, and that given time to contemplate what is proposed, support wanes.

Part of the problem is that every opened ended nature of what is proposed. The referendum question does not fully reflect the wording to be added to the constitution in the event of a yes vote, and the wording to be added to the constitution does not fully reflect current proposals for implementing “the voice”.

The wording of the question does not explicitly mention race, nor what defines “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander” people, nor how any voice should operate. Realistically, implementation of only what is said in the question could be harmless.

Chapter IX Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:

  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 the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth 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 matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.
Constitutional amendment

Nor does the wording to be added to the constitution specifically mention race, identify who are to be deemed “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”, or how they would be identified. Again, the wording itself is harmless, with the legal questions arising from what will be seen as the intent of how it was intended that these words would be interpreted.

The clearly first nations people were those in Australia before European settlers and other newer wave immigrants arrived. However, as those original people are no longer living, they cannot give voice to any advice. What we now have is descendants of those original first nations people. However, as love does not always recognise “race”, a significant number of descendants are also descendants of those newer wave immigrants. It is largely assumed that the intention is for participation in the voice to be a hereditary right, raising questions as to eligibility for this right would be determined.

It is at this point of eligibility to participate in the voice that the problems begin, with the next question being how with the right to participate be implemented in practice.

Why now, locking “a voice” into constitution before even starting?

There is no barrier to creating a voice as proposed before such a voice is covered by the constitution, as the current constitution in no way prevents having a voice.

The proposal is to enshrine the concept of a voice, without mandating how that voice should work. There is no detail in the proposal, because the proposal for the constitution is not about the “how”.

There are separate discussions about how to make a voice work, but the government has set out to enshrine the idea in the constitution before becoming caught up in the mechanics of any specific implementation. As no implementation will ever be perfect, the goal has been to avoid being caught up in debates about what type of voice, just as the question of a republic became divided on the basis of how to choose the head of state.

The problem with the current approach, is that it creates suspicion about the motives for locking in a voice before even trying to see how a voice could function, and it locks in wording before gaining any feedback on what is necessary to make a voice work.

Any government that can get propose a referendum to lock a voice in forever as the power to run a voice in advance of that referendum.

Does the races power still have a place in the Australian constitution?

Two retired judges say a section of the constitution which allows federal laws to be made for a particular race of people should be changed, because it is a relic of Australia’s past and is potentially dangerous.

The races power, in section 51(xxvi) of the constitution, gives parliament the power to make laws for “the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.

ABC June 2020: Does the races power still have a place in the Australian constitution?

Just three years earlier, there was a call to abolish having rules on the basis of race of ancestry.

So how could/would a “voice” work?

The problem is that most suggestions seem to function very much like an additional chamber to the current supper and lower houses of government, with elected members who, axiomatically, would be politicians. I have heard complaints that it is proposed to have less than 300 members of the voice chosen by the indigenous people so varied they have 300 discrete languages but have not seen enough on proposals to know if there are plans to address this and the criticism is real or not.

More to be added following more research.

EDIT: Update with poll results that voters overwhelmingly support a voice.

Professor Biddle said he was surprised by the “extent to which Australians were still likely to support the principles of the Voice”.

Overwhelming majority of Australians support a First Nations voice despite referendum defeat, finds ANU survey

A large majority of voters still back Indigenous constitutional recognition and giving First Nations Australians a say in developing policies that affect them, even after the resounding defeat of the voice to parliament, according to a new survey.

Voters still back giving Indigenous Australians a say in policy that affects them despite voice result: survey

The truth in the “YES” argument for those with a “NO ” perspective.

Note: this section is for those holding a “no” perspective, holders of a “yes” perspective should focus first on “No” from a “yes” perspective”.

No, not all “yes” voters are either righteous racists or condescending racists.

Yes, the majority of “yes” voters may indeed live in the city where people who live in apartments protest about climate change, and they may be statistically less likely to have installed solar power or done something about climate change or have indigenous friends that those outside the cities, but the majority of yes voters are not “all protest and no action or solutions inner city people”, but a far wider group, who are not all influenced by self-centred celebrities righteously proclaiming they are putting others first.

Yes, all the negative categories may exist, but that does not mean every who votes “yes”, is in one of those groups, or it is necessary to vote “not” to distance from those groups.

The reality is, the proposition may be flawed, but it is the only proposal being put forward to try to change things.

The “no” proposal really is just negative.

There is both recognition and trying to improve outcomes for indigenous people.

While there has been the suggestion of recognition without the voice, there is no alternative proposal to address “closing the gap” between living standards of indigenous and other Australians.

Whilst the idea that problems are “because no one is listening” at the same time the voice is being proposed does not really make sense, and more than the idea of whether people care would be changed by a “yes” vote, it has to be considered that it would very likely many indigenous people would feel like no one is listening, and a “yes” vote may change that feeling, and at least put a fresh face on listening and measures to help.

The proposal is not perfect in terms of addressing disadvantage, but no one is putting forward any alternatives. The question being asked may be divisive and calls to abandon the asking may even make sense, but the question will be asked.

Affirmative action always requires discrimination.

One of the biggest problems those voting “no” have with the voice is that implementing the voice requires discrimination. Arguing that it is not racial discrimination, but instead about discrimination on the basis of whether a person is indigenous, is still discrimination.

On one hand, fighting discrimination with more discrimination can sound like the “‘Only Thing That Stops A Bad Guy With A Gun Is A Good Guy With A Gun” argument, but it can be worth considering the “yes” argument perspective counter argument that affirmative action is accepted as mostly successful, and it does follow the same principle.

Realism vs optics.

While asking the question may be divisive, once the question is asked, a “no” could be just as divisive as a “yes”. A yes may not solve anything, but a “no” would mean those wishing for “yes” would feel no one even tried.

The truth in the “NO” argument from a “YES” perspective.

If you plan to vote “yes”, then it is still worth considering the merit of the “no” argument, either to convince those who could be convinced to change, or just to get those people to understand your point of view.

For many with a “no” perspective, the proposition is based on a racist perspective, would entrench racism in the constitution, and would not of itself really do anything to give an additional voice to indigenous people.

Yes, there are racist “no voters”, but probably no more than racist “yes” voters.

While it is true that there would be some voting “no” who are “classic racists” or even white supremacists, and those people are unlikely to ever be convinced to vote “yes”, and no “yes” voters ever be able to respect their point of view, this is far from the only type of “no” voter. Consider this point of view I head in a “country town” that shot my previous beliefs:

“I am a schoolteacher, but I also identify as indigenous, and as I have no know ancestors who were not indigenous, I would meet any test as an indigenous Australian, but to suggest I need some extra voice is racist. I have family who are part of a community in [nearby town] who do that need a voice or something else, and there may be some who married into that community and won’t qualify as indigenous, but they still need something. I am voting ‘no’ because I think it is racist, won’t focus on those who need help and will just be another bureaucracy playing lip service and getting in the way of doing anything. The main people who want this see themselves getting roles as the bureaucrats, and people in the city being condescending towards us!”

“No” voter at a bowling club in ‘country’ NSW.

Understanding why ‘No voters’ can see ‘Yes voters’ as being racist.

The schoolteacher quoted above is not the only indigenous Australian who has broken free of disadvantage.

There are indigenous astrophysicists, men and women supreme court judges, surgeons, as well of course a higher proportional representation in parliament than any other racial group. While indigenous people do get to become successful doctors, lawyers, scientists or any other profession including those potentially higher paid careers in our society of sportspersons, actors, musicians and other entertainers, the problem is that currently too few have such successful careers.

Are we so committed to the belief that indigenous Australian will always be underrepresented in prestigious careers and disadvantage that mechanisms to address disadvantage of indigenous Australian as a group written into the constitution?

As a solution to disadvantage, “the voice” is steeped in racism.

Not does writing the voice into the constitution appear to assume the indigenous disadvantage will exist in perpetuity, it also appears suggest only indigenous people should be proposing solutions. The is the thought that “only those who live with the understand well enough to solve the problem”, but would you adopt that approach when going to hospital?

While if no one working on solutions is indigenous that would sign of a severe problem, isn’t insisting everyone advising on solutions is of a specific rase is also a problem?

A politician’s solution?

The proposal for a voice is that a body will be elected to advise. Instead of people research and study solutions, the voice will consist of people who win an election to be appointed to the voice. Yes, in the eyes of politicians those who win elections are best placed to made decisions on behalf of others, but this is the process that made Scott Morrison Prime Minister of Australia.

Is it really that surprising that there are many people suspicious that creating another group of politicians is the best use of resources available to address indigenous disadvantage?

Clearly, the current Australian Prime Minister, does genuinely believe that giving indigenous Australian their own specific group of politicians who can only be selected from the one racial group will be a big step forward, but is it possible that a lifelong career politician has an inflated view of the ability of politicians themselves to solve problems, rather than ensure those best qualified a working towards the goals society wants?

Questions on race, racism and racists.

Racism Definition.

Not everyone agrees on the definition. This first definition, which I tend to agree with, calls out that just the belief that people can be divided into separate and exclusive biological races is racism.

racism, also called racialism, the belief that humans may be divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called “races”; that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural and behavioural features; and that some races are innately superior to others.

Britannica: Racism

Basically, any assumption of personality, intellect, morality or culture on the basis of ethnicity or “race” is racism.

In the end, racism is about “othering”: adopting the belief that other people are fundamentally different from yourself, and that what is good for those people as a group is different from what is good for people like yourself.

Race is only statistical, and at an individual level, race isn’t actually real.


the fact that patterns of human variation have been shown to be mostly clinal, with human genetic code being approximately 99.9% identical between individuals, and with no clear boundaries between groups

Race and genetics

No, indigenous Australians are not a “race”.

“Indigenous Australians” are not a separate “race”, but a set of over 300 discrete communities often referred to as tribes with languages seen as too different to be described as just dialects. The idea of one “race” is just as foolish as the idea of race itself. While even within Britian, people from different areas have different accents and a “Geordie” may be a little than a “Scouse“, the differences between different indigenous peoples go beyond just accent, beyond dialects and to actual languages more different from French and Spanish, and just as Spanish people can be seen as a different ethnicity to the French, differtn indigenous Australians should as least be seen as not necessarily of identical ethnicicty.

Further, while the “over 50,000 years of culture” can give the impression one single group arrived over 50,000 years ago, the reality is this means “50,000 years of evolution of culture” with many arrivals during the time span who would have brought genetic diversity bringing influences on culture.

Another reality is that indigenous Australians far closer generically to Europeans than many groups in Africa, which shows how skin colour is unrelated to other genetic diversity.

The reality is what makes a person an indigenous Australian is about culture, not race, and for 10s of thousands of years, people have been arriving in Australia and becoming indigenous Australians as well as participating in the evolution of what it means to be an indigenous Australian.

What is racism, and what is the opposite of racism?

For my own definition, I find it very hard to improve on the definition of racism given Britannica, which is the based on any believe that physical features make any difference to a person’s nature or what is right for that person is being racist, but there are people who feel it is only racist when discriminating against a minority groups or another race, and thus discriminations towards that other group is the opposite of racism.

If racism is specifically the discrimination against a racial group, then it could follow that the opposite would be discriminate in favour of a racial group?

I once found myself being accused of being racist because I did not accept that race determined character. My accuser, a person who was in my opinion a “righteous racist”, believed my argument that if they found indigenous Australians who they had met to all be of “superior character”, that it would have been due to the “it takes a village to raise a child” indicating a good village, rather than their assertion that, no, character was determined by race. To me this declaration of a superior race sounded like Hitler, to them, Hitler’s problem was declaring the wrong race to be superior, and by my not seeing which race was superior, I was as wrong as Hitler.

But I see Hitlers and “positive discrimination” as wrong, and the real opposite of racism being zero discrimination on the basis of those things thought to identify “race”.

Classic racism.

The classic racists are not supportive of other races.

From the extremist white supremacists and “Ku Klux Klan” though those holding more moderate forms of the same views, and preconception natives of counties that were less advanced when first Europeans arrived must be inferior to Europeans. The reality that even Europeans gains many of their developments from ideas moving from Asia and the Middle East, or that if humans have existed form 300,000 years, then clearly breakthroughs will be rare, and one group who were able share ideas between cultures getting even 10,000 years ahead over a period of over 100,000 years may not mean anything to those looking to apply confirmation bias to any evidence of their superiority.

Patronising racism.

Some racists believe they are supporting of other races.

Patronising racists often claim that all races are equal, but still assume individuals of different races to be different, and that allowances need to be made to compensate for these differences. At best, in much the same way males and females can be considered different but equal, however men should open doors for women and women should not be on the front lines in the military. With gender, areas of difference are physical, which is why there are separate 100-meter races for each gender at the Olympic games, but with patronising racists, it is often assumed the differences go beyond physical.

The problem is, patronising racists adopt a philosophy that racial characteristics are at least in part the cause of disadvantage, and thus races will always require allowances to be made to achieve equality.

Righteous racism.

Righteous racism mostly takes the form of people from majority races declaring that one or more minority races are in some ways actually superior to their own race. For these people, those who do not see these traits of superiority other races are the racist ones. This is still keeping the “classic” racist philosophy of difference between “races”, but reversing which race is superior and adding the righteous approach of “self-sacrifice” by declaring that is races other than their own that are superior. To them, self-sacrifice is required for any form of “purity”, so there must be some form of self-sacrifice in order to not be racist, and those not making the self-sacrifice they are making, must themselves be racist.

This can even reach the confusing extreme of believing races have generically based need to live in different, and typically more primitive, conditions to those they themselves. In the end, lots of “othering” and the belief that many others including those who don’t acknowledge racial differences are the racist ones.

The stolen generations: patronising and righteous racism in action.

Looking back now, it seems hard to believe, but the church missions and government agencies behind the acts of parliament that led to the stolen generations, were all passionately convinced they were acting in the best interests of indigenous Australians!

Indigenous Australians were being saved from their own limiations.

Official government estimates are that in certain regions between one in ten and one in three Indigenous Australian children were forcibly taken from their families and communities between 1910 and 1970.

Stolen Generations

While distance of time makes it hard to believe the “Protector of Aborigines” was other than an Orwellian named government agency that was acting in a manner that would be completely unacceptable today, it turns out indigenous children are still being removed from their families for their own protection at quite an alamring rate:

The situation is dire enough for the Commissioner to compare the predicted level of removal of Aboriginal children to that of the Stolen Generation – the historic, systemic removal of Indigenous children from their families.

Octaober 4, 2023: Report into removal of Aboriginal children calls for legislative reform

Care is needed to avoid those acting with the best intentions causing some of the greatest harm.

Indigenous Australians: How and why are they different?

This section still a work in progress.

Who are they officially?

Since the 1980s the federal government has used a three-part definition of Aboriginality that requires a person to be of Aboriginal descent, to identify as Aboriginal and to be accepted as such by the community in which they live.

‘Tick-a-boxes’: Tackling the ‘growing problem’ of who identifies as Aboriginal

“A lot of people are coming out of the woodwork claiming to be Aboriginal,” Mr Caroll, a Wiradjuri man, said.

“I know of people here in Sydney who haven’t grown up Aboriginal and all of a sudden, their kids are identifying as Aboriginal. They are attending the schools, getting the jobs and taking away opportunities from people who have grown up Aboriginal … It’s a growing problem.”

‘Tick-a-boxes’: Tackling the ‘growing problem’ of who identifies as Aboriginal

How are indigenous people different?

I heard one person voice the view that Indigenous Australians were the only society that did not invent the wheel. This is of course false, as almost all societies discovered the wheel by exposure to the invention by someone else and the invention spread, which in the case of Australia would have been problematic.

While the first indigenous Australian may have been in Australia as long as 60,000 years ago, it is not really like only one single group arrived and then no one else ever again made the journey. over and all descended from that one original group. Up until around 10,000 years ago when sea levels rose, it is clear that at least small numbers of people kept arriving, which is probably why from a DNA perspective, most indigenous Australian are far closer to Europeans than to Africans of other groups.


  • 2023 Nov 28: Update with poll showing “yes, voters would support a better phrased voice proposal”.
  • 2023 Oct 5: Update in progress