On the weekend, CNN reported that the Voice referendum has "revealed its priorities and prejudices." But I'm not so sure that it's as simple as that.
Paul Strangio, a professor of politics at Monash University stated that those who are voting "no" are people "who feel in some way aggrieved about their place in the nation." But the people that I've spoken to, who have loudly voiced their objections, have demonstrated that the reasons for their staunch position are varied.
While some people definitely fit Professor Strangio's description, there are plenty of people who are voting "no" because they don't like the wording of the question, they feel it divides us and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for all perpetuity, they worry that it will create a third House of Parliament, challenge sovereignty, change our system of government, or even establish a permanent element of racial privilege into the constitution.
Then there are those who don't feel that the constitutional change goes far enough, that it is not convincing as a means of "clos[ing] the gap". They want it enshrined in the constitution that the government must table recommendations for debate in the House.
And there are those who worry that the Voice will not represent those most disadvantaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are living in remote or very remote parts of Australia. They are concerned that the Voice will become a constitutionally protected lobby group for the wealthy "elite" Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in the cities.
We also hear the cries of frustration from "no" voters that there is too little detail! We don't know what we are voting for! But we aren't parliamentarians in the House of Reps. We aren't passing the legislation that will give the Voice its form and function, we are voting on whether we think the government should be empowered to create the Voice.
That said, we actually do have a little more meat on the bones of the as-yet-hypothetical legislation, if you know where to look for it.
In 2021, the Indigenous Voice co-design committee led a four-month long public consultation and engagement process on the way the Voice should be rolled out.
Their final report outlines two parts to the Voice that work together in partnership: Local and Regional Voices, and a National Voice. The design would also provide mechanisms to build effective partnerships at the local and regional levels for government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to work together on improving outcomes, while the national Voice engages at the federal level to provide advice on relevant Commonwealth laws, policies and programs. This should go a long way towards capturing the needs of those living in outlying remote regions.
The report is 272 pages of detail provided to government as a proposal fuelled by the input of over 9400 people and organisations, making this co-design engagement process one of the most significant with the Australian community on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs in recent history.
So we do have some idea of what to expect. I think Briggs' viral video (if somewhat condescending) points out how not voting "yes" on this step towards progress now is counterproductive to hoping for another opportunity to vote "yes" for some sort of undetermined "perfect" solution at an undisclosed time in the future. Progress now can be built on tomorrow.
Furthermore, I hate to break it to you, but the constitution is already racially divisive, creating constitutionally-backed racial privilege in Australia. Looking at the debate records of Edmund Barton, Isaac Isaacs and Berhnard Wise back in 1898 regarding the constitution's formation, you can see the purpose of section 51(xxvi) - the Race Power - was to limit non-white immigration to the country.
The racial privilege the constitution was consciously designed to protect was white privilege. Not something I care to perpetuate, frankly.
Ultimately, the question we're answering on Saturday is not about the form or function of the Voice.
It's whether or not such a group should exist. All previous attempts at advocacy groups to government have been dissolved by the government. The proposed constitutional change is about whether its existence should be at government discretion.
So perhaps the better question is, do you trust the government? Or should we counter-balance the existing constitutional racial divisiveness and protect the Voice in the constitution?
However you vote, make sure it's informed.
- Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocate at impressability.com.au, and a regular columnist for ACM.