How Will the ‘Voice’ Contribute to ‘Reconciliation’?

Gabriël Moens Gabriël Moens
December 8, 2022Updated: December 9, 2022

Commentary

There is no denying the reality that a constitutional convention held in 2017 near Uluru galvanised a movement to amend the Australian Constitution. The “Uluru Statement from the Heart” (pdf) invites people to walk with Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders “in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

To that purpose, it is expected that sometime next year, a referendum will be held to enshrine a “First Nations Voice” in the Constitution. Although the federal government is pressing forward with this project, the details of it have not been disclosed, except that it will supposedly contribute to “reconciliation” with Australia’s Indigenous population.

There is, however, utter confusion as to who is to be regarded as Aboriginal, how the members of the Voice will be chosen, and what the powers of that body—often described as “advisory”—will be.

The constant speculation about the shape and the function of the Voice overlooks the question of why its proponents deem it necessary to establish this body for “reconciliation” purposes. This question is almost never asked and hence, not considered and answered.

Even conceding the importance of this “reconciliation” project, the inordinate amount of interest of the media in the “Voice” is genuinely curious.

The media is effectively treating the “Voice” as a byword for “reconciliation,” which has become one of the most used but least understood words in political and social discourse. Often, it simply means the adoption of a swath of privileges available only to those who identify as Indigenous.

Australians Don’t Unanimously Support the Voice

Commenting on the present “reconciliation” developments, Peter O’Brien notes in the Quadrant that “so far, non-indigenous Australia has done all the reconciling—witness the ubiquity of the Aboriginal flag, the constant refrains of ‘we acknowledge the traditional owners,’ the Aboriginal domination of the opening ceremonies of all major public events, the Aboriginal-only study grants and job placements, the relinquishment of 60 percent of our land mass to some form of native title, and so on almost ad infinitum.”

The Leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, announced that his party would not support the Voice. Although the party’s opposition to the Voice is not unanimous—Andrew Gee, federal MP for Calare disclosed his support—it bemoans the introduction of yet another layer of bureaucracy in Canberra.

Epoch Times Photo
Nationals leader David Littleproud with Nationals members and senators at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Nov. 28, 2022. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The party argues that all people, regardless of race, who are dispossessed or live in squalid conditions or are economically deprived, should be assisted.

So, there will be no bipartisan support, although the Liberal Party has not yet voiced an opinion on the proposal.

Also, support for the Voice is not undisputed even within the Aboriginal polity of Australia, with Country Liberal Senator Jacinta Price and prominent commentator Warren Mundine cogently criticising the proposal.

The frenetic activity to establish the Voice is curious in light of the adoption, in July 2020, by the Australian government and the Coalition of Peaks—the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations—of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

This initiative “stems from the belief that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a genuine say in the design and delivery of services that affect them, better life outcomes are achieved.”

It is unnecessary in this opinion piece to rehash the arguments for and against the Voice—these have been abundantly covered in the past in various magazines and newspapers, including this paper. Except to reiterate that the Voice, if successful at the upcoming referendum, would introduce a race-based representative body in the Australian Constitution.

Surely, such a development belittles the often-stated claim that a person’s rights, obligations, and privileges should not be dependent on a characteristic over which people have no control and therefore is irrelevant in the distribution of burdens of benefits.

Epoch Times Photo
NBL Owner and Executive Chairman Larry Kestelman reacts during the NBL Indigenous Round launch at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Nov. 29, 2022. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Is Australia Different?

Australia is unique in that it seeks to undo the past by enthusiastically promoting the Voice as a way of achieving reconciliation. This movement seeks to atone for the “invasion” of Australia by Captain Arthur Phillip on Jan. 26, 1788, following Lieutenant James Cook’s decision to claim the East Coast of Australia for the British on Aug. 22, 1770.

Proponents of the Voice argue that the “invasion” and consequent disruption of the cultures of Aboriginal tribes in Australia necessitates “reconciliation” as an atonement for taking the land of the inhabitants who were there at the time of European settlement.

Why should this now result in a huge race-based industry supposedly to reconcile with those who claim special privileges because of their race?

Throughout recorded history, powerful countries have invaded weaker countries and acquired them by force. Mostly, these unfortunate events have not resulted in demands for reparation, compensation, or reconciliation.

For example, Flanders, in northern Belgium, was twice the size of what it is today before 1659. But between 1659 and 1713, France under Louis XIV invaded Flanders and, over this period, gradually annexed it to France. The Flemish culture was suppressed, and the teaching of the Flemish/Dutch language was prohibited.

However, although the annexation could be characterised as an aggressive act, there is no movement to seek reconciliation between French Flemings and France. Indeed, what happened more than 300 years ago, not long before the time Australia was settled by the British, belongs to history and is firmly kept in the past.

Over time, the displaced Flemings in Northern France got on with life and are treated by the French State like all other Frenchmen. The same story has occurred over and again throughout history.

Why, then, would it be different in Australia? Indeed, in contrast, in Australia, the accommodating attitude displayed by various Australian governments to the interests of Indigenous Australians borders on sycophancy and imbues non-Indigenous Australians with a guilt complex.

Where will this development lead in the future?

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (2020) and “The Coincidence” (2021).