Questions and answers about the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament

Questions and answers about the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament

4.2.        What are the arguments for voting No?

Arguments for voting No will be examined in 4.3 – 4.15 with reasons, evidence and opposing views. Here we will merely list some of the main arguments. Readers are encouraged to consult the remainder of this text for further information.        

The establishment of a Voice to Parliament has been the subject of significant controversy. Arguments for voting against a Voice include doubt over whether the body would create any significant change, the belief that the body would undermine democratic principles, and the fact that there would be one body to represent the views of the whole Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. Other concerns of a legal nature that have sometimes been put forward are discussed in the questions and excerpts that follow, where it is pointed out that they have been largely discounted, so they will not be considered further here.

Some people believe that an Indigenous Voice to Parliament would be, in practice, no more than a symbolic body that would not engender meaningful change. From this point of view, there is concern that the Voice could easily be ignored by government ministers, who would only be obliged to receive the body’s advice but not to act on it.[26] 

Some people argue that establishing a Voice would cause complications for parliament around the questions of ‘who [falls] within the term “Aboriginal”’ and “sovereignty”.’[27] 

There is concern that the Voice’s advice, by focusing on the interests and needs of Indigenous people, would not consider the impact of legislation on the rest of Australia and could therefore be harmful to different aspects of society. Warren Mundine notes that ‘Indigenous Australians are Australian citizens’,[28] from which he draws the conclusion that the Voice could technically offer advice on any piece of legislation, potentially delaying parliamentary processes.

Concerns about the efficacy of a Voice have led some people to argue that money would be better spent not on the Voice but on reforms such as a treaty, a truth-telling commission and reserved seats in parliament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members.[29] 

It is suggested that the Voice might undermine the Australian democratic system. Among others, Mundine and former Supreme Court Judge Nicholas Hasluck assert that creating a representative body which caters for the interests of ‘a certain section of the community defined by race’, contradicts the principles of a liberal democracy.[30] According to this argument, the Voice to Parliament would potentially prioritise the well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander citizens and thereby give them a platform to which other racial groups do not have access. As a result, the Voice would undermine the Australian Constitution which proclaims ‘equal civic rights’ for the whole population. Additionally, it has been argued that if a Voice were established that did not receive the support of government, it could resort to gathering support from elsewhere and pressuring government into adhering to its advice, further distorting democracy.[31]

Some have questioned whether a Voice to Parliament could accurately represent the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that are widely spread geographically and culturally diverse. This would mean that the validity of the opinions expressed by the Voice could be questioned by some on the basis that they held different views. According to Warren Mundine, ‘no Aboriginal person can speak for another country’,[32] as a result of which the Voice – or anyone else – cannot speak for any Indigenous community. In this way, he argues, it would inherently be unable to advocate for the interests of First Nations people.

The arguments in opposition to the Constitutional change summarised here are fully elaborated in the remaining questions and the excerpts that follow.

Continue readingExcerpts 5.2.

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