In a speech delivered during last week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has emphasised the significance of the Voice of Parliament in redefining Australia as a nation. Speaking at the Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration in Adelaide, the Prime Minister expressed his belief that the Voice to Parliament could serve as a transformative force, even surpassing the achievements of the 1967 referendum, despite the continuing conservative attacks that are threatening to derail the process.
With passion and conviction, he called upon the nation to embrace a better future, one that addresses the historical injustices experienced by First Nations people and invited all Australians to walk together towards progress.
However, there are stark differences between the political landscape of 1967 and the present day. The Liberal Party today is a radically different party to the one of the Menzies era, and fear, loathing, and hatred have become more potent tools for mobilisation today: it was obvious that the federal Liberal Party was never going to support the Voice to Parliament and even before the legislation for the referendum was presented in Parliament, they had declared their allegiance to the “no” campaign.
In a continuing pattern of misrepresentation and deceit, they have distorted information and levied baseless accusations against Prime Minister Albanese who, since his election victory in May 2022, has advocated for positive change and sought to address the issues facing Indigenous Australia.
The Prime Minister has been criticised in some quarters for his lack of courage and timidity on other reform initiatives but these criticisms cannot be levelled at him on the Voice to Parliament, driven by a conviction that it is ‘the right thing to do’, regardless of political ramifications. Also, there are significant challenges inherent in convincing the rest of Australia to support an initiative that seeks to rectify historical injustices, while facing staunch conservative opposition.
Among the opponents of the Voice to Parliament, speculation about ‘a secret plan’ to overturn future legislation has gained traction, despite a lack of any substantiation, as no such provision exists in the proposal for the Voice to Parliament, and the propagators of these unfounded theories often resort to ‘dog-whistle’ politics through media outlets such as News Corporation.
This is in contrast to the extensive reports from the Solicitor–General which suggest that the Voice to Parliament will possess no legislative power, and primarily serve as a consultative body for Indigenous voices to be heard – which has been the intention of the Voice to Parliament all along.
In a misguided attempt to discredit the Voice to Parliament, some conservative groups are questioning its legitimacy by proposing the inclusion of other ethnic groups, such as the Chinese or Lebanese communities. Yet, this argument conveniently ignores the historical context and the unique plight faced by Indigenous Australians.
Recognising the enduring history of Indigenous connection to the land, which spans over 60,000 years, it is essential to acknowledge the injustices suffered by these communities since 1788. While the mistreatment of other immigrant groups throughout Australia’s history of white settlement/invasion needs to be acknowledged, it pales in comparison to the systemic displacement and oppression faced by Indigenous Australians.
The Liberal Party race-based political games
It has to be remembered that the impetus of the Voice to Parliament can be traced back to the bipartisan act initiated by the Prime Minister at the time, Malcolm Turnbull, and then Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten in 2015, which later led to the release of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. While the subsequent Morrison government rejected incorporating the Voice to Parliament into the Constitution, it did at least express some lukewarm support for a ‘voice to government’.
However, current opposition leader Peter Dutton has totally rejected the idea of federal government involvement and instead proposes limited council area involvement that would render the Voice to Parliament ineffective, a strategy which reveals the Liberal Party’s focus on political gamesmanship rather than genuine progress for First Nations people.
Critics argue that the Liberal Party’s motives extend beyond mere opposition to the Voice to Parliament, with suggestions that many prominent members of the party – such as Dutton and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott – wish to protect a vision of Australia that maintains an Anglosphere dominance and ‘white’ authority. While not overtly expressed, this power dynamic manifests in other ways, including through deliberate misinformation campaigns and the unleashing of anonymous trolls on social media platforms.
The Liberal Party’s campaign against the Voice of Parliament has included accusations of Albanese’s “moral blackmail” and trying to define and impose his views on Australia’s national conscience. It also matches up with the Liberal Party’s previous support for One Nation’s “it’s okay to be white” motion in the Senate in 2018, and the views of Senator George Brandis in 2014, that “people have the right to be bigots”.
While the Liberal Party’s tactics are obviously calculated for their political benefit, it’s a strategy which could ultimately backfire. The changing demographics of Australia, with a younger generation less inclined to respond to racist dog-whistling, suggest that the party’s strategy is out of touch with the evolving social landscape. Racism, though still present in Australia, is gradually losing its grip on society, and the majority of Australians are receptive to addressing historical injustices and valuing equality and inclusivity.
The Voice to Parliament is not without its imperfections and, once established – if it is successful in the forthcoming referendum – will need to undergo careful scrutiny to ensure fairness, openness, and broad representation within the Indigenous community which, in turn, can address long-ignored issues. The Voice to Parliament represents a crucial step toward a more inclusive and equitable society, signaling a commitment to progress and Indigenous empowerment.
As the path toward achieving the Voice to Parliament unfolds, it is evident that opposition and misrepresentations will persist. Australia stands on the precipice of an opportunity to redefine itself as a nation committed to rectifying past injustices and paving the way for a better future, where Indigenous voices are heard, respected, and valued. The journey may be challenging, but the Voice to Parliament represents a critical beacon of hope, progress, and unity for all Australians.