In a significant step towards achieving greater Indigenous representation, the legislation for a referendum on the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament has been approved.
While no specific date has been set for the referendum yet, this development marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing efforts to address Indigenous rights and empower First Nations peoples. However, there remains a possibility of a temporary halt if Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese believe the referendum‘s success is uncertain.
The approval of the legislation in the Senate was met with enthusiasm and celebration – not by all – 52 in favour, and 19 against recognising the First Peoples of Australia through the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. This historic achievement paves the way for a crucial democratic process that will shape the nation’s future.
Despite this progress, tensions emerged as Senator Lidia Thorpe announced her opposition to the Voice of Parliament and has aligned herself with the Liberal Party, the National Party, and One Nation to campaign against the ‘yes’ case. Senator Thorpe expressed disappointment in the government’s failure to act in good faith during negotiations, particularly in implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Bringing Them Home report. These long-standing issues, dating back three decades, demand self-determining solutions from Indigenous communities themselves. Senator Thorpe’s decision to join forces with political opponents reflects her dedication to her principles, even if it means working alongside those with whom she often disagrees.
Critics of the Voice to Parliament, including Senator Thorpe, argue that it falls short of addressing all the necessary issues faced by Indigenous communities. They contend that negotiations for a Treaty, reparations, and initiatives such as the ‘Pay The Rent’ campaign should be pursued alongside the establishment of the Voice. While acknowledging these concerns, proponents argue that progress must be made incrementally within the realm of politics, with the Voice to Parliament representing a significant milestone in the journey towards Indigenous empowerment.
Senator Thorpe’s alignment with the Black Sovereignty Movement, which argues that the Voice to Parliament perpetuates white dominance over Indigenous affairs, has sparked further debate. While this view does not appear to represent the majority opinion among Indigenous communities and leaders, it highlights the complexity surrounding the issue.
Political strategy for Voice to Parliament and the complex path to treaty negotiations
These political dynamics also pose challenges for Senator Thorpe herself. Having been elected as a Senator through the Australian Green and subsequently leaving the party, she now faces the task of maintaining a prominent position in the Senate. The implications of her current alliances and potential consequences for her future endeavours, especially if a Treaty becomes the focus, remain uncertain.
The world of politics often brings together individuals with contrasting views and values, particularly when it serves their respective agendas. However, collaborating with the Liberal Party, the National Party, and One Nation on the ‘no’ campaign, Senator Thorpe’s decision has left many wondering about the underlying motives and potential consequences.
Critics argue that aligning with these political forces – known for their hostile opposition to initiatives such as a Treaty or the ‘Pay The Rent’ campaign – may undermine the interests of Indigenous Australia. Without clear indications of any hidden agreements or trade-offs, the motivations behind this alliance remain mysterious, raising concerns about the effectiveness of such a political strategy.
In contrast, the delay of House Australia Future Fund by the Australian Greens appears to have a more obvious strategy: the Greens aim to enhance existing policies and capitalise on the associated issues for political gain within their movement. However, opposing the Voice of Parliament without any viable alternatives from the government appears questionable at this stage. The pressing need for a Treaty with First Nations people, which was promised by Bob Hawke in 1988 but subsequently neglected, has long been a central aspiration for Indigenous communities. Addressing the historical injustices of stolen land in 1788 through colonisation and again in 1901 through Federation, the call for a Treaty, ‘Pay The Rent’, reparations, or any other means of rectification resonates with many Indigenous voices.
For those skeptics who doubt the potential impact of a Treaty, Victoria’s current Treaty process serves as a powerful example. Indigenous people in Victoria are in the process of electing representatives to participate in Treaty negotiations—a significant milestone. However, if the negotiations are not completed within the term of Premier Daniel Andrews or a subsequent Labor government in Victoria, the prospects of a Treaty may fade, or be removed by a change of government in future elections. Perhaps this context provides insight into Senator Thorpe’s strategy: dismantling the Voice of Parliament to pave the way for Treaty negotiations, although it should be noted that the Voice to Parliament and the Treaty are not mutually exclusive but could work in tandem to advance Indigenous rights and reconciliation.
Australia needs a Treaty with First Nations people
While Australia stands out as a nation without a treaty with its Indigenous populations, it is crucial to acknowledge that treaty-making processes vary across the globe. These treaties are ongoing negotiations, often revisited every few years to assess their effectiveness and adapt to changing circumstances. The Voice to Parliament, though not deemed ideal by some, can serve as a catalyst for initiating the Treaty process.
Representatives within the Voice to Parliament could advocate for a Treaty using compelling moral arguments: the promises made in 1988, the Apology to Parliament, and the urgent need to address the alarmingly low living standards faced by Indigenous communities. The concept of ‘paying the rent’ – although ironic amid a domestic rental crisis – invites Australia to reflect on its responsibilities and priorities.
As the discussion surrounding Indigenous rights continues, unconventional alliances and differing strategies emerge within the political landscape. While the motivations behind certain political manoeuvres remain open to interpretation, the ultimate goal of achieving Indigenous empowerment, justice, and reconciliation must remain at the forefront. The journey towards true equality and understanding demands unwavering commitment, informed dialogue, and a willingness to challenge existing norms and perceptions. Only then can Australia move closer to a future that respects the rights and aspirations of its First Nations peoples.