The Liberal Party decision formally opposing the federal government’s model for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in Parliament amounts to a resounding “no” – but perhaps not in the way party leader Peter Dutton thinks.
It’s a “no” to the proposed Voice model, of course, but it’s also a “no” to the Australia we live in today. This position bets against Australia and its First Peoples.
The party’s decision follows a landslide loss in Aston’s midterm elections and polls that continue to show a majority for the Voice in five of the six states.
This decision further indicates that the Liberal Party is primarily interested in speaking to a nation that no longer exists.
We are not the nation we were when we voted “no” to a republic – but this appears to be the nation the Liberal Party is on to speak out.
Read more: View from The Hill: Peter Dutton’s risky call to campaign for ‘No’ in Voice referendum
Symbolic recognition is not enough
Dutton tried to put a positive spin on the banquet hall’s decision yesterday, to announce:
The Liberal Party decided today to say yes to constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, yes to a local and regional body so we can get practical results for Indigenous people on the ground, (but) there was a resounding no to the Prime Minister’s vote .
This position emphasizes “yes” to constitutional recognition, but only in its symbolic form.
Australia has already tried symbolic recognition. Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in a preamble to the constitution was suggested in the 1999 republican referendum; the referendum was unsuccessful.
Symbolic recognition has been stated as a goal by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Voice’s proposal stems from the 13 national dialogues, and its 1,200 delegateswho rejected symbolic recognition in favor of structural change.
The Liberal Party has said “no” to this call for structural change that will restore the pangs of our powerlessness.
Local and regional voices have gone unheard in Canberra
Dutton said he wanted to get the “best possible outcomes for Indigenous Australians” but is not proposing anything new to achieve this.
He stressed “yes” to a local and regional body. But this does not take into account the fact that the many existing local and regional bodies have stated time and time again that their voices are not being heard in Canberra.
The design principles who shaped the proposed Voice model are already committed to local decision-making in determining membership, and to working with existing organizations and traditional structures. This model proposes to connect local and regional voices with the national voice.
On the other side of the coalition, Nationals leader David Littleproud, whose party had already decided not to support the Voice proposal, has described the Voice model proposed as simply “another layer of bureaucracy here in Canberra”. But that doesn’t take into account the fact that it’s aiming for the kind of structural change that hasn’t been attempted before.
The Coalition has consistently called for more details on the model and is concerned that the proposed Voice model goes too far and could potentially undermine parliament’s authority.
This is despite overwhelming legal advice to the contrary.
Read more: What happens if the government goes against the advice of the Vote to the House of Representatives?
All in all, these arguments amount to a confusing position.
Yes to constitutional recognition, but only if it doesn’t change anything.
No to the proposed referendum, because it is not going to change anything.
No to the proposed referendum, but because the changes actually go too far.
Despite the consistently supportive polls, the Voice referendum is far from certain.
When the 1967 referendum gave the Commonwealth the power to make laws about us at the national level, it had yet to be made clear that this did not necessarily mean that they should be made in our favour.
When the former Abbott government consolidated Indigenous programs in Indigenous advancement strategy, more than cutting $500 million from programs with little to no notice to communities, the Recognize campaign for symbolic recognition (founded by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard) was still active.
Time and time again we have seen the failure of symbolic recognition.
Australia has changed
In the 24 years since Australia last voted in a referendum, the country has changed.
Supposedly “Howard’s Australia” has been transformed, with a majority of Australians now a migrant or the child of migrants.
Younger generations are more cynical than idealistic about political life and their own future.
The Liberal and National parties rely on the nostalgia of a nation of yesteryear where responsible political leadership holds the course and repeatedly calls for trust in systems they say are not broken.
Anyone paying attention knows that these systems have never worked for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. And that every success we’ve had despite this broken political system that was never meant to hear our many voices.
The “yes” campaign is counting on a nation that knows this.