It is all too easy to blame the government entirely for the mess in which the Voice proposal appears to sit. It is ugly.
Decent Indigenous contributors have been called bedwetters and good people who happen to disagree with the proposal for change have been labelled racists. Puerile arguments in favour, such as "be on the right side of history", are just risible. According to whom?
With all the advice that has been sought, given and taken over the years we are somehow expected to believe that advice from another body, just because it is in the constitution, will fix problems that have thus far proved intractable. But why are we in this position? In a stunning feat of PR and manipulation of the media, a relatively small group of Indigenous activists have taken it upon themselves to promote the Voice as the solution. I served on the referendum council from 2015 to 2017. Noel Pearson's idea for the Voice was well developed back then by him and others at the Cape York Institute. It is my view that, rather than it arising from consultation with Indigenous Australians, it was in fact sold to them, limited in number though they were, through those consultations. Having the final meeting in Alice Springs was a stroke of genius allowing the emotive title "from the heart ".
It is largely not members of the government engaging in the nastiness. This group of angry activists are politically extraordinarily savvy in one way and babes in the woods, at the same time.
Noel Pearson thought that his idea for the Voice could go to the Garma Festival in 2017, and decisions concerning a referendum and a treaty would be made within three to five years. Party leaders have a lot of clout but the successful ones recognise that every member of Parliament has both a right and duty to be informed and consulted.
Leaders who want to dictate to party rooms in the end meet the strength of the party room. So Noel's dream timetable was laughably out of touch with reality.
Aggression works for this group. Nobody I know wants to offend or upset an Indigenous Australian and this goodwill is played upon mercilessly. If you say something that isn't agreed on, you get met with a flash of anger, or told you're being insulting, or you don't understand. Of course you don't. This lot want to control the narrative.
There's a constant push of victimhood to legitimise the anger. Here's one small example.
I sat at a dinner where an Indigenous activist claimed it was a terrible hotel because they had refused to serve her dinner the night before.
There were mutterings about not holding meetings there again. I looked her in the eye and reminded her that the previous night one section of the food service was shutting down because it was late and in fact a meal had been chosen and eaten with me.
There was a begrudging admission that yes, she had been served "in the end". There was nothing racist about the service at all. But hey, you were refused one service and offered another isn't as victim loaded as "they refused to serve me".
All political groups have people within them with varying degrees of capacity, likeability and decency. Indigenous groups are no different.
These angry, aggressive, limelight-seeking activists are in my view doing a great disservice to Indigenous Australia.
Ken Minogue, the now deceased political theorist once pointed out that the poor are an indispensable asset to the legitimacy (such as it may be) and income of the self-appointed, unelected activists who purport to speak on their behalf. So it is with these self-appointed angry activists. Indigenous disadvantage is their meal ticket.
We could fill newspapers and websites with fabulous stories of Indigenous achievement in schools, medicine, architecture, the arts ... the list is endless. How much better for the motivation and mental health of Indigenous kids would it be for them and frankly for all of us to celebrate the achievements rather than read about an activist reportedly calling a senior public servant a "maggot", and a "bucket of shit". That kind of publicity is embarrassing for so many Indigenous Australians. It is a million miles away from the Indigenous people on the ground getting on with doing great things.
Her CV is impressive to say the least. She exudes decency and commitment. After attending one of the advisory committee meetings, I commented to a whip-smart advisor what an absolutely charming woman she was.
He smiled, agreed and then said that she had one problem. Namely that she often didn't realise she was the smartest person in the room. Humility. That's a problem some people never have.
Then consider Denise Bowden, who is not a household name outside the Northern Territory. She is the CEO of the Yothu Yindi Foundation and someone who gets on with the job at hand. She is softly spoken, but not weak. An absolute pleasure to work with.
I have to include a bloke so I'll mention Associate Professor Kristopher Rallah-Baker, the first Indigenous ophthalmologist and board member of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Again, very smart, charming, well-informed and with a life experience that speaks volumes about both disadvantage and opportunity. These people and many many others like them, Indigenous or otherwise make all Australians proud.
Yes, we should shine a light on deprivation and disadvantage. But let's also shine a light on achievement.
If the "no" case is successful, among the last people to accept responsibility will be the angry activists. But they should be the first.
- Amanda Vanstone is a former Howard government minister and a fortnightly columnist.