Hey, Mr Albanese, fools rush in and all that… Hold back on the referendum for a moment.
The voice of reason should be heard above the clamour for a ‘Voice to Parliament’, starting with being authentic and sincere in the debate. Let’s not fall into the trap of using the manipulative language of activists, whether well-intentioned or self-serving, and avoid false characterisations of indigenous Australians. Dishonesty is not the best way to start your pitch.
At first glance, First Nations sounds nice enough; noble even. On closer scrutiny, First Nations really refers to hundreds of (often warring) tribes across the continent of Australia that speak over 250 different languages. There was no pre-colonial nation, much less several.
The actual First Nation on this land was established in 1901, after five decades of jostling towards it. On January 1, 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed and inauguration ceremonies were held at Centennial Park, Sydney with the swearing-in of the Governor-General and an interim federal ministry.
Even before we debate the powers and potential usefulness of a Voice to Parliament, wouldn’t it be reasonable to figure out who might qualify to speak with such a ‘Voice’ and whose voices individually they might represent?
As historian Keith Windschuttle observes in Quadrant (June 22, 2022): ‘Labor’s planned constitutional change cannot avoid the vexed question of how Aboriginal identity is defined and managed.’
‘The much publicised recent scandal of Bruce Pascoe’s fraudulent claim to be an Aboriginal man, is nothing new or unique. Pascoe’s forbears are all English, mainly from Cornwall, and his genealogy contains no Aboriginal ancestry at all. However, this has not concerned the judges of state Premiers’ lucrative literary prizes supposedly reserved for indigenous writers, or the academic committee at the University of Melbourne who disregarded Pascoe’s lack of any postgraduate qualifications or contributions to academic journals and appointed him Enterprise Professor in Indigenous Agriculture. Given the success that bogus Aborigines like Pascoe and (Allen) Appo (of Bundaberg) have long enjoyed there should be little doubt they will continue to do so, especially if the Australian populace is foolish enough to support the new Labor government’s proposed referendum to give Aboriginal people their own platform in our Constitution.’
At present, Australian governments accept the three-part definition: (i) be of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent; (ii) identify as someone of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, and (iii) be accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives. But even this test is not foolproof.
As a Hungarian-born British migrant to Australia, I am not qualified to enter the identity debate. But who is? The disagreements over identity qualification is enough to torpedo the very idea of such a Voice. All I can bring to this discussion is the outsider’s view. And from an outsider’s perspective, Australia has no unified voice on this issue. Commentators on the right and the left support it and oppose it. The arguments rage and emotions overcome reason.
This brings to mind an observation by Welsh-born mathematician and philosopher the late Bertrand Russell:
‘The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.’
The vast majority of those with Aboriginal ancestry are fully assimilated into the modern world and have been for generations. They are doing as well and have the same outcomes as other Australians, with as many experiences, opinions, and aspirations as everyone else.
There is no single homogeneous entity of Aboriginals. No valid singular ‘Voice’.
The one terrible fact on which everyone does agree is that the violence and sexual abuse in remote communities must be addressed. The Voice won’t do that. The problem isn’t post-colonial behaviour or failure of recognition (how shallow the premise of that blame sounds).
The problem is cultural, but who will admit that? Or should that question really be framed as, who knows that?
One person who does is Roslyn Ross. Also writing in Quadrant (June 21, 2022), she notes that:
‘Humans function best when we take responsibility for ourselves and learn to be independent and self-sufficient. This creates strength of character, resilience, and flexibility, as any sensible parent knows and seeks to encourage. Welfare is both invaluable and humane in short-term situations, but destructive long term. I saw this while living in four African countries, and indeed, some enlightened locals in those nations – Angola, Zambia, South Africa, and Malawi – were also aware of the well-meaning but terribly destructive impact of aid given too freely and with too little thought.
‘In remote Aboriginal communities, disasters that they are, the same dynamics are at work (self first and foremost, immediate family second, extended family a possible third and everyone else can go to hell). Turn a tribal hunter-gatherer society into a mendicant society and you get dysfunctional cultures which cannot function in any world, neither the one which exists only in fantasy – “world’s oldest living culture” et cetera, et cetera – or in the modern one they need to join, yet are simultaneously encouraged not to join (‘world’s oldest living culture’ et cetera, et cetera) beyond accepting its material and mechanical gifts. How could anyone remain functional when caught between two such discordant worlds?’
Ross suggests that:
‘Working to end the mendicant mentality must come from the outside with a slow easing of the flow of aid and support for these communities. To do otherwise is to continue the destruction of useful lives and generations in ways which should never be allowed, especially in regard to the immense harm visited upon innocent children.’
But as sensible as this seems, Ross also recognises that, ‘Nothing changes unless the culture changes, and cultures can only be advanced from within.’
Besides, changing that ingrained tribal culture that exists within yet outside the general Australian mainstream culture is not the objective of the Voice… So what would be its value?
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