IPA Calls For Constructive And Respectful Debate On The Voice

The Institute of Public Affairs has expressed disappointment in Noel Pearson’s comments about the IPA and has called for constructive and respectful dialogue in the debate about the voice.

At the Garma Festival on Sunday, Mr Pearson accused the IPA of dispatching ‘child soldiers telling lies about the voice’.

“Both sides of the debate should engage with each other in good faith and with mutual respect. Assuming bad intentions with those you don’t agree will result in the same old status quo,” said Daniel Wild, Director of Research at the IPA.

“There is broad agreement on both sides of the debate about how we can improve the lives of indigenous Australians, including through localism, real property rights, and regional economic development. We must unify around practical approaches to improve the lives of all Australians, rather than being divided by race.

“Race has no place in Australia’s constitution. The existing references to race should be removed from the constitution to make it clear that all Australians are equal regardless of the colour of their skin. There is no us and them – only us.

“Inserting an indigenous-only body into the constitution would be illiberal, divisive, undemocratic, and violate the egalitarian principle of racial equality under the law,” said Mr Wild.


For media and comment: Daniel Wild, Director of Policy; Morgan Begg, Research Fellow, via Evan Mulholland, Director of Communications, on 0405 140 780, or at [email protected].


Indigenous Voice Of Division Would Force Parliament’s Hand

Proponents of an indigenous voice to parliament make two key claims: it would be confined only to areas affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and it would not become a third chamber of parliament. Both claims understate how far-reaching such a body is likely to become.

In an opinion piece in these pages on July 26 (“Cleanest way to establish a voice”), esteemed constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey refers to a draft constitutional amendment she prepared in 2015 to provide guidance on how a constitutionally enriched voice might work. The first part of Professor Twomey’s proposed amendment states that an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander body “shall have the function of providing advice to the parliament and the executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

But this seemingly unobjectionable limitation hides how far the remit of the voice would be. All major policy decisions made by parliament affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including tax, welfare, education, health, infrastructure, industrial relations, environmental regulation, financial market regulation, and superannuation. It couldn’t be any other way. Laws are passed by parliament on behalf of all Australian citizens regardless of their biological make-up.

Even assuming an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander body could represent the diversity among indigenous Australians is questionable. There is no more a single indigenous view on policy than there is a single non-indigenous view. But the proposal for a voice cuts against the model of Westminster parliamentary democracy, based on geographical rather than racial representation, that underpins the success of modern Australia.

Professor Twomey also flatly rejects the claim that an indigenous voice to parliament would act as a third chamber.

In a separate article on July 13 (“Fright-monsters keen to deny voice a fair go”) Professor Twomey states “the only people suggesting this (that the voice would become a third chamber) are those who are opposing it, so we can strike this off the list of problems”. Professor Twomey asserts that the proposed indigenous voice is not a radical concept as it would join numerous other bodies “whose job it is to ensure that the parliament is better informed about particular subject matters”.

Chris Kenny in his article from July 20 (“Uluru plan could not be fairer”) similarly claims that if critics must describe an indigenous voice as a chamber, “then it will not be a third chamber but perhaps the 598th chamber”. But the entire point of having an indigenous voice is that it must not be just another body among many others. That is why proponents insist on it being constitutionally enshrined — to elevate it above the other bodies and to prohibit its abolition by parliament.

If the voice is to be just another government body, then it doesn’t need any special representation.

The government could establish the voice right away, without the need for constitutional change. But if the voice is to be something more influential, then it will necessarily need to have a more privileged place within the policymaking, development, and implementation process.

This is why the voice would become a de facto third chamber (if not de jure — although even on this point we cannot be sure until a concrete proposal is established).

Parliament would be reluctant to go against the advice of the voice, not necessarily because of the quality of its advice, but out of fear of being shamed into action. In a time of identity politics, the image of a majority non-indigenous parliament going against the advice of an indigenous-only body would make it difficult for parliament to go against that advice.

Despite disagreement about the voice, there is broad agreement that the views of many indigenous Australians are not reaching the policymakers in Canberra.

This is not an argument for another Canberra-based bureaucracy, though, but its opposite. More localism achieved via the decentralisation of policy to local communities would empower those in remote areas to take control of their own lives in a way that Canberra never could.

Policymakers, commentators, and activists on both sides of the debate should come together to develop a positive and united policy program based on localism, regional economic development, and providing real property rights to indigenous Australians. This would deliver practical outcomes without compromising on the universality of the Constitution.

Regardless of the intentions of proponents, the voice would become an exercise in identity politics where every policy issue would be viewed through the prism of race. This would create an irreparable, permanent, structural, and racial divide in Australia from which this nation would never recover.


A Violation Of Racial Equality

This article originally appeared in Sydney Morning Herald.

All Australians are equal. The legal status of Australians should not be decided according to their skin colour or race. Any proposal that seeks to establish a special “voice to Parliament” for some people and not others is radical, illiberal, and a violation of all principles of racial equality. Our nation’s founding document should not divide us.

Australia has just commemorated National Reconciliation Week, a period in which Australians are asked “to reflect on our shared histories and relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation”.

This year, the focus turned to advocacy for a referendum to “recognise” Indigenous Australians in the constitution by establishing multiple representative bodies at a national, state and local level to advise Parliament on issues relevant to Indigenous Australians.

The establishment of such bodies, or an Indigenous voice to Parliament, is one of the most radical proposals for constitutional change in Australian political history. It risks establishing a parallel system of representative government based on race.

The suggestion that the voice could be confined to issues affecting Indigenous Australians is fundamentally incoherent. All policy decisions that have a general application are Indigenous policy decisions because Indigenous Australians are Australians.

Dangerously, the voice would in practice exercise a veto over any policy passed by the federal Parliament. While a formal veto would not be written into the powers of the voice body, the political risk would make it too costly for a government to go against the Indigenous voice. The accusation of racism, rather than the formal powers of the voice, is the veto.

In June 2017, the federal government’s Referendum Council delivered its Uluru Statement from the Heart, which called on the Australian people to follow the precedent set by a successful effort to change the constitution in 1967. In the statement it said “in 1967 we were counted. In 2017 we seek to be heard”.

Constitutional recognition advocates have always had a weak claim to be the spiritual successors of the 1967 referendum. In that year Australians voted by an overwhelming margin to “alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the People of the Aboriginal Race in any State and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the Population”.

The symbolic importance of this vote should not be underestimated. While the practical effect was to centralise much of, and kick-start the massive growth of, the Indigenous affairs bureaucracy in Canberra, this was a positive step forward in removing references to race in our constitution.

Australian voters then began to understand that race had no place in the constitution.
It is true that many Indigenous Australians face a range of challenges from unemployment, high rates of incarceration, and drug and alcohol abuse. Addressing these challenges may well require local solutions. Many conservatives are in favour of broad-based political decentralisation and empowerment of local communities to solve local problems. But this doesn’t mean that the universality of the Australian constitution needs to be compromised. Nor does it mean that the concerns and needs of Indigenous Australians are fundamentally different to that of non-Indigenous Australians.

The basic needs of humans, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are not culturally contingent. For example, all Australians need access to the dignity of work, effective policing to reduce crime and violence, home ownership and high-quality education to live flourishing lives. And the Australian Parliament, which represents all Australians regardless of race and is open to participation from all Australians, remains the best body to address these issues.

The idea of formal equality under the Crown is the cornerstone of the constitution and the principle underlying our freedoms and the rule of law. Challenging this idea is a challenge to national unity and Australia itself.

Regardless of how the country votes in a referendum for constitutional recognition or an Indigenous voice, Australia will lose. Merely asking Australians to divide themselves by race will divide Australia along racial lines forever. The dignity of Indigenous Australians demands that they be treated the same as non-Indigenous Australians, which means being included and represented in a common national body: the Australian Parliament.

This article originally appeared in Sydney Morning Herald.


All Australians Are Equal

“The Morrison government must not hold a referendum which would ask Australians to divide themselves by race”, said Daniel Wild, Director of Research with the free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Recent calls to amend the Constitution to enshrine an “Indigenous Voice” to Parliament have been made by a small number of large corporations, sections of the media, and the political class.

“Calls to insert race into our nation’s founding document are retrograde, divisive, and illiberal. Race has no place in Australia’s Constitution.”

“Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians are all first and foremost Australians who share a common county, legal system, and destiny.”

“The suggestion that the ‘voice’ could be confined to issues affecting Indigenous Australians is fundamentally incoherent – all policy is Indigenous policy decisions because Indigenous Australians are Australians.”

“The dignity of Indigenous Australians demands that they be treated the same as non-Indigenous Australians, which means being included and represented in a common national body: the Australian Parliament.”

“In the 1967 referendum 91% of Australians voted to change the Constitution to remove references to race.  Now, 52 years later it appears both major political parties want to put race back into the Constitution.”

“Even just asking Australians to divide themselves by race will divide Australia along racial lines forever.”

“All Australians deserve access to the dignity of work, safe communities, stable families, home ownership, high quality education, and economic opportunity. These pillars support human flourishing, regardless of skin colour,” said Mr Wild.


For media and comment: Daniel Wild, Director of Policy; Morgan Begg, Research Fellow, via Evan Mulholland, Director of Communications, on 0405 140 780, or at [email protected].