THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
Opinion - The Voice
Later this year, Australians will be asked whether they support a simple amendment to the Australian Constitution.
It will be an opportunity to recognise 65,000 years of history, and to make a practical difference to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The amendment would in essence say:
- In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of this land, there shall be a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
- The Voice may advise the Parliament and the Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
- And finally, it will be up to the democratically-elected Parliament to make laws about precisely what the Voice looks like and how the Voice is to operate – in the same way as the Parliament makes laws about a range of other bodies and subject matters.
The proposed amendment has been extensively scrutinised by some of the best legal minds in the country, and they have concluded that the amendment is constitutionally and legally sound.
No less an authority than the Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth has said that “the proposed amendment is not only compatible with the system of representative and responsible government established under the Constitution, but it enhances that system”.
The No campaign simply ignores that overwhelming consensus of legal opinion.
Even worse, the No campaign shows little interest in talking about the very real problems that this referendum is intended to address.
Like the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are around 55 times more likely to die from rheumatic heart disease than non-Indigenous people.
Like the fact that Indigenous mothers are more likely to give birth to babies that are underweight.
Or the fact that there is a gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians of eight years.
The No campaign is offering no solutions to these intractable problems, which successive governments have tried but failed to address.
Fundamentally, that is what the Voice is about – providing solutions to intractable problems.
It is an idea that has come directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It did not come from politicians in Canberra.
The Voice will be a committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who will give advice to the Parliament and Government on issues affecting their communities.
It will include Indigenous Australians from every state and territory, the Torres Strait Islands and representatives from the regions and remote communities.
As Professor Megan Davis has said, the Voice “provides a Logan voice to Canberra. It provides a Cairns voice to Canberra. It provides an Alice Springs voice to Canberra. It provides a Yarrabah voice to Canberra.” And it would provide a Tamworth voice, a Wilcannia voice, a Dubbo voice.
The Voice will improve the way we develop laws and policies relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because it will give local communities across Australia a voice TO Canberra.
After decades of failure, the Voice is about helping the Parliament to make better laws, and helping the Government to make better policies, in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The Voice will have no power to prevent, delay or veto laws of the Parliament or decisions of the Government. The Parliament and the Government will retain decision-making power over all laws and policies.
But the point is that laws and policies relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be improved if they are informed by the voices of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
And this will lead to better outcomes.
That is why Australians from all walks of life, all faiths and cultures, and all sides of politics are going to vote Yes at this referendum.
We cannot risk more of the same. But more of the same is all the No campaign has to offer.
The Voice can do no harm – only good for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and for the country more broadly.
Thursday, 20 July 2023