The Voice vs Democracy

That life in a democracy is better than under any other form of government is attested to by the migration of hordes of people from undemocratic states into the democracies of Western Europe, North America, Australia and other democratic countries.

Democracy is the peak achievement of Western civilisation. And whilst the left seems to want to denigrate the achievements of the West, the vitriol that they preach would not be countenanced except in our democracies.

But the problem that we confront in our modern democracies is that whilst everyone wants to enjoy the freedoms that they provide, too few are prepared to work at preserving those freedoms.

It is something akin to someone buying a new house. They buy a house because it has an attractive garden. But if they don’t take action to sustain and nurture the garden within a few years the garden is over-run with weeds and is no longer attractive.

Part of our duty as citizens is that we must nurture and defend our democracy because it is easily lost. Citizenship of a democracy is not just an entitlement; it should also be earnt by our defence of those democratic freedoms and the institutions that we rely on to preserve them for future generations.

Eighteenth century German political philosopher of the Enlightment, Immanuel Kant, summed up the exceptional entitlement that a citizen of a Western democracy could aspire to in this way, He described the citizen as “enjoying lawful freedom, the attribute of obeying no other law than that to which he has given his consent”.

Kant might have better said “obeying no other law than that to which the majority of citizens have given their assent”. Because that is the very foundation of democracy. The individual must yield his individual sovereignty to the collective decision making of he and his fellow citizens.

Consequently, if say we have a Federal election, and I choose to vote Labor but the Liberals dominate and get a majority, I must reconcile myself to having to accommodate a Liberal government until such time there is another election. This is true even if there is only a small majority. In a democracy they are the agreed rules.

But the Voice presents the likelihood of very undemocratic outcomes.

The Prime Minister assures us that the Voice can’t override the parliament and that it has no direct power to legislate. But the Voice will undoubtedly have considerable coercive power. The Prime Minister, himself, flagged this when he said, “It would be a brave government that chose to ignore the Voice.” We therefore must concede that if we agree to ensconce the Voice in the Constitution that, at the very least, the Voice will have a very strong capacity to veto proposed legislation.

We then have the prospect that legislation endorsed by representatives speaking for 50% of the population may well be thwarted by the wishes of a minority who purport to represent 3% of the population.

But the Voice proponents tell us that supporting the Voice will help with reconciliation. I believe that such a process will only cause resentment from ordinary Australians who will not have the same opportunity to gain access to government decision making. This will act against reconciliation and only lead to more separatism exacerbating the difference between indigenous and other citizens.

The Voice proposal is fundamentally undemocratic. As well, the Government’s prosecution of the process to deliver the Voice seems more designed to obfuscate the role of the Voice and its implications for our democracy than to clarify it

Moreover, the Prime Minister and other Voice supporters have discouraged legitimate inquiry into the powers of the Voice by labelling any who dare challenge their vague and misleading explanation of the Voice as racist. So here we are being asked to make a decision on the most significant proposition ever put to the Australian citizenry regarding our Constitution and the left resort to name calling rather than debate. What’s more, in contrast to previous referenda the Government is only providing support to the Yes case.

The Prime Minister rightly points out that the coalition originally proposed that Aborigines should be recognised in our Constitution as the original inhabitants of Australia. But then he goes on to make the breathtaking claim that their opposition to the Voice somehow amounts to a betrayal of indigenous people! The Voice proposal is a far more radical intervention than merely recognising indigenous people in the preamble to the Constitution which is what the conservatives desired. This modest proposal seems now to be abandoned. Already the activists are warning that a treaty and a so-called truth telling commission are next on the agenda. Far from encouraging reconciliation (which was never the aim of the activists in the first place) all this will do is fuel further separatism. The Government seems either to have no concerns about these alarming developments or, more likely, tacitly agrees with them.

Now the dilemma most Australians are confronting is why should they vote for the voice?

The Voice proponents seem unable to articulate any convincing reasons why this particular intervention might succeed when so many who support it rely on irrational emotional appeals to the good will of the Australian people,  The proponents argue it is a step towards reconciliation whereas it seems more likely to drive a further wedge between indigenous Australians and non-indigenous Australians. They further argue that the Voice will help “close the gap”. They ignore the history of ATSIC and previous representative bodies that, whilst costly, did little to advance the welfare of indigenous people particularly those in remote communities and were dominated by cronyism and corruption. But at least it was within the remit of parliament to abolish ATSIC, Once the Voice is ensconced in the Constitution it will be virtually impossible to eradicate.

In an article in support of the Voice, Thomas Mayo, a Board member of Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition wrote:

For most indigenous Australians we seek constitutional recognition because of the love we have for our children and our country. After all, if this referendum fails, it will have detrimental impacts on on the health and wellbeing of our families and communities for generation. If it succeeds, we know they will enjoy better lives.

He does not explain how these benefits might be delivered by the Voice. He merely asks us to accept as a giant leap of faith that the Voice will magically transform indigenous lives.

Now I have no reason to doubt that Mr Mayo doesn’t love his children but in those places of greatest indigenous dysfunction children are neglected, Young children without parental supervicion roam the streets at night at will. This results in exaggerated rates of juvenile crime by indigenous children. These neglected children are routinely absent from school, subjected to physical and mental abuse and parental neglect and as a result find themselves dealt out of normal life opportunities and family support. Those most dysfunctional ommunities are not typified by the love of their children but by the neglect of their children.

One would have thought that if the principal purpose of the Voice is to “close the gap” and the Voice is going to be so wonderfully effective as its proponents attest, there will come a time when the Voice is no longer required and there ought to be a simple way of shutting it down.

But I don’t believe the activist proponents of the Voice have much interest in “closing the gap”. They are happy to portray indigenous people as disadvantaged in perpetuity because it enables them to preach about the victimhood of being indigenous. This is the basis of their political power and allows them to play off the guilt of many of the non-indigenous population. To them the Voice is merely a helpful step towards promoting the notion of co-governance.

As usual, the activists promoting the Voice are wanting to magnify the differences between indigenous and non-indigenous citizens. This is hardly the way to reconciliation. Researcher and commentator on indigenous affairs Anthony Dillon, is always quick to point out that, when it comes to racial difference, we all have much more in common than we have differences that might be attributed to race.

Or as columnist, Henry Ergas,-recently eloquently put it:

And to make matters worse, the very fact of dividing the population on the basis of race in the Constitution, the nation’s foundational document, will endorse the notion that there are essential, immutable differences between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, and with the conflicts separate representation invariably generates giving that inherently abhorrent, artificially cemented colour line even starker salience.

So let me cut to the chase and articulate my principal reasons for opposing the Voice.

  1. It is wrong in principle. The Constitution should not confer more rights on the basis of race on one segment of Australians than any other.
  2. In a similar vein it is not democratic. Every citizen should have the same access to influence government regardless of ethnicity..
  3. Based on historical precedent there is little evidence that the Voice will improve the welfare of disadvantaged indigenous citizens, But its establishment and maintenance will come at a high cost to the Australian taxpayer,
  4. The creation of the Voice will undoubtedly foster separatism rather than reconciliation.
  5. If the Voice is approved there is likely to be more dramatic race-based assaults on our democracy.

15 Replies to “The Voice vs Democracy”

  1. Thanks Ted. The thing that troubles me most is how difficult it is becoming to obtain objective, evidence based information on important topics such as this – and the corresponding difficulty having an open and honest debate to enable us to properly inform ourselves.
    The radical left claim to champion diversity but shut down any opposing views – that is certainly not diversity (at least on my understanding of the term) and it is an affront to democracy. Opponents of the Voice are being branded racist notwithstanding there are highly intelligent Aboriginals who oppose the proposal for good reason, having correctly identified the whole notion of a voice has been hijacked to further the cause of the radical left. Thank you for your considered views. And even if I disagree with you (which I don’t), you are entitled to your opinion.

  2. We seem to have passed by the notion “we are one, from all the lands on earth we come”. I see the Voice as a divisive tool that will further divide our society. World history has demonstrated that First Nation peoples are themselves settlers to this part of Gondwanaland. Four generations ago one of my forebears is of that settler group. Subsequent forebears have arrived from various parts of the planet and all have contributed to the society we now enjoy. My DNA is a good representation of the League of Nations. I have always enjoyed your expression Ted and it is the same to this day. Great comment on the Voice.
    Kind Regards, Henry Handley

  3. Thanks, Ted, as always for your thoughts with logic and reason that weirdly seems absent in the rather hollow didacticism of the ‘Yes’ Voice position. If there were true conviction that enacting ‘the Voice’ would ‘close the gap’, enhance the welfare of Indigenous people and unite Australia for the good of all, it would be (firstly) expressable in terms of intent and outcome and (secondly) a potentially winning treatise. Instead, an air of ‘shadow boxing’ tends to mask, even repudiate the real needs that the important subject matter purports to serve. A case for unity of spirit and of pulling together for betterment is not the flavour being picked up.

  4. Hi Ted

    Very interesting and informative to read as well as your additional comments in relation to Anzac Day. Thanks.

    I wish to provide some interesting anecdotal evidence that I experienced during the Anzac Day service following the march on Bribie Island. The Bribie Island RSL President during his opening address to a crowd of several hundred attendees made the comment, “We will not be doing a Welcome to Country this morning as we are all custodians of the land on which we live and we are all responsible for looking after this land.” While I did not see this as either a racist or divisive comment but rather a brave comment, to my surprise, the RSL President received a loud and strong ovation from the greater bulk of the attendees. In actual fact, the ovation that he received for this one comment was far greater than any other applause from attendees during this whole service with guest speakers such as veterans and school children. This comment also provoked a lot of subsequent discussion amongst those attending celebrations following the service, and it was amazing to see how strong the support was for the RSL President’s comment.

    Is this now an example of the growing concern within our communities wanting to distance themselves from the indigenous racial issues and the division that “The Voice” will create?


    1. Thanks Brad for sharing that little anecdote with us. I would have applauded too!
      I thought it amusing that Marcia Langton was recently reported as saying that if the referendum failed Australians could expect that indigenous elders would retaliate by doing no more “Welcome to Country” ceremonies. Now that’s the sort of punishment I can really take!

  5. Ted I think that the current government is pushing the Voice on the flimsy premise of “keeping a promise” with scant regard to possible outcomes thereby breaking the first rule of Paul Keating “the outcomes are important(stupid)” (Who would have thought that I would reference him).
    The cynical side of me thinks that the process is setup to fail so a certain person can say “I tried but they would not let me”.
    To my mind either a successful or a failed referendum will have disastrous and far reaching outcomes, which we will all rue in the fullness of time. As Schellenberger pointed out, the actual outcomes from successful activism in most cases is diametrically opposed to their desired aims.
    Ken Wyatt got it right legislate the “Voice” – in other words evolution not revolution

    1. David, it is beyond me to try and interpret the intentions of the Prime Minister. But he does seem to talk out of both sides of his mouth. When talking to the general population he wants to pretend that the Voice is benign and not worthy of any undue concern. When he talks to the black activists on the other hand he is quick to assure them that the Voice will cement a powerful mechanism to allow indigenous people to influence the mechanisms of government.

      And you are right that no matter whether the referendum fails or succeeds we are going to be faced with increased tensions between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

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