Now that the football is out of the way and, love them or hate them, Collingwood has won the flag, each of us has to decide how we will vote on our future of relationship with indigenous peoples in this country by 6 pm next Saturday.
A generation ago, who would have thought 100,000 people would be clapping Wurundjeri man Uncle Colin Hunter Jr’s generous welcome to country for the AFL Grand Final last Saturday. Millions more watched on television. For many it was a moving moment in time that reflected Australia’s changing relationship with Indigenous peoples and culture.
In March this year the Prime Minister proposed that we recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution and establish a Voice to Parliament through a referendum.
The Voice will be a body to give Indigenous people the opportunity to make representations to the Australian Parliament and the Government.
The Wombat Post has published a number of articles covering issues on the referendum. We have sought to give both supporters and opponents an opportunity to argue their position. But, despite our efforts for balance, overwhelmingly, our contributors have supported the Voice.
Supporters argue that it is not acceptable for Australia to remain as one of the only colonised countries in the world not to respect and recognise our First Peoples in our Constitution and to make sure they have a say in matters that affect them.
We have tried, but struggled to get opponents to express their views. Nevertheless, it is clear there is significant concern and opposition to the Voice.
Opposition is split. Some argue the Voice is not enough and won’t do much for Indigenous peoples. These people want a treaty instead. Others argue the Voice is unnecessary, divisive and undemocratic because it privileges Indigenous peoples.
More significantly, it appears there is a substantial number of people who are uncertain and therefore cautious about changing the Constitution.
We have considered the arguments for and against the Voice.
Firstly, it is clear there is strong support for recognising Indigenous people in the Constitution. Peter Dutton, who has led the No campaign, admits that he supports Constitutional recognition.
Most of the argument therefore centres on whether or not Indigenous peoples should have a constitutionally recognised body (the Voice) to represent their interests.
The argument that there is not enough detail and such a body would undermine democracy and cause division is unconvincing.
The Australian Constitution is a pragmatic document that balances up a number of interests. For example, Tasmania and Victoria have 12 Senators each, but Victoria has more than 10 times the population of Tasmania. Whether you agree or not, this is a pragmatic solution to give all the States an equal say in the Senate.
Many other countries, including New Zealand give their Indigenous people a say. They continue to have a strong, functioning democracy. Internationally, Australia’s reputation is likely to be damaged if the referendum fails.
When it comes to the detail of how the Voice will operate, the Constitution sets the framework for Australia’s laws, not the specifics. That is the job of Parliament. Overwhelmingly, constitutional experts have made it clear that the Parliament will determine the powers, functions and operation of the Voice. We trust the expert view that Australian democracy is not threatened by the Voice.
But will the Voice make a difference? Indigenous people have survived 230 years of having things done to them without having a say. There is little dispute that much of what has been done in their name has been devastating with extraordinarily unjust and unequal outcomes in health, social, cultural and economic wellbeing.
Some argue that what matters is concrete programs and actions to address these problems and that the Voice will make little difference. We do not agree. Nor do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Despite some high profile Indigenous opposition, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people overwhelmingly want the Voice so they can have a say on what affects them.
No-one is suggesting the Voice will fix every injustice but it is a fundamental step along the way to a more just and equal Australia.
Next week’s referendum is important moment in time for us to go forward with the world watching what we do. It is a defining opportunity for Australia to embrace Indigenous culture and heritage and to take a step toward justice and inclusion. It would be a terrible shame if we do not take the chance and seize the moment.
The Wombat Post Editorial Committee
The Wombat Post is seeking opinions from individuals and groups to canvas the full spectrum of views on the Voice. We will consider opinion/editorial pieces and letters to the editor submitted by members of our local community. In all cases, our editorial policy applies.
Editor’s note: Mark Rak, who is a member of the editorial committee, did not participate in the development of this editorial as he is working for the Australian Electoral Commission for the Referendum.