26 September 2023

Create a Prime Minister Free Zone – vote Yes

| Peter Strong
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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also made errors in his approach to Aboriginal Australians. Photo: Screenshot.

When Prime Ministers tell Australians they know what’s going on, they should actually be able to demonstrate that. This is particularly true of the commentary of many Australian Prime Ministers when they speak to us about issues affecting Indigenous Australia.

Their knowledge must be framed by genuine conversation and experience of engaging with Indigenous Australians, not just with their mates who think they are the experts and certainly not just with those from the Indigenous community who are on their side of politics.

Knowledge must be gained from a representative cross-section of Indigenous Australians who can speak from lived experience – as opposed to ideology and self-interest. Those who created the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the architects of the Voice have responded with quality historical documents and words.

There have certainly been PMs who have consulted properly and wisely, but we have two recent examples of Prime Ministers who believed they knew all they needed to know but made the situation worse for too many Indigenous families.

One is our current Prime Minister who is trying to rectify that problem by creating the Voice, and the other is John Howard. Both made decisions affecting Indigenous Australians that were poorly informed and applied.

John Howard implemented the Northern Territory National Emergency Response (the Intervention) into Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory from 2007 to 2012. It aimed to stop the violence and alcohol abuse that had become rampant in many Indigenous communities in rural and remote Australia.

The result was mixed and the net benefits are still debatable. There was some success, but it destroyed the good work that had been started in several communities, particularly in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.

Anthony Albanese decided to remove the so-called ‘welfare card’ from Indigenous communities when he came to power in 2022. As a result, valuable welfare income was diverted away from essentials like food and clothing and was instead spent on alcohol and cigarettes.

These decisions are examples of paternalism and patriarchy – albeit advanced under the guise of a ‘good, trusting and progressive Dad’ (Albanese) as opposed to a ‘bossy, tough and protective Dad’ (Howard).

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To Mr Albanese’s credit, he is attempting to inhibit the capacity for future Prime Ministers and policymakers to make the same mistakes by embedding constitutional recognition of the right and the need for Indigenous people to be properly consulted and heard.

To Mr Albanese’s great discredit, however, he has failed to communicate how the Voice will help Australian governments to make better decisions for our Indigenous population. He appears to have based communications on trips to the Garma Festival and not on the reality outside that. It’s like judging Melbourne by visiting St Kilda and not going any further.

I’ve worked in Third World countries and developing economies over the years, so when I first visited remote Indigenous communities, I found that I was in a similar work environment as I had been in those other nations. I basically found myself in a different country.

English was not the first, and often not the second, language of the people I met. Their culture and cultural norms were quite different from my own. So they had to talk and I had to listen and ask questions to clarify whether what I was hearing was what they actually meant.

When overseas, I quickly learned to constantly use interpreters and regularly check to make sure that any understanding was consistent.

The World Bank and other funding organisations always provided a significant budget for employing local interpreters and translators. This was not just for language and the written word. It was also aimed at providing consultants with the cultural awareness needed to develop policy and local ownership of the policies.

The Voice will provide the ‘interpreters’ that the government needs to listen to genuine issues and develop options for addressing them.

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It’s in the interest of our Indigenous peoples because it allows them to seek assistance in a way that aligns with their community and culture. The cultural differences between Indigenous communities can be as profound as the difference between, say, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam.

It’s in the interest of taxpayers because it means government money won’t be spent on initiatives not developed from the right knowledge base.

If only Mr Albanese had communicated the intent in an inclusive way for all groups, respectful of the voters and understandable. If only.

Then again, if only Mr Dutton had let his party members form and promote their own Yes and No campaigns, and then as leader, he concentrated on the economy and IR reforms and health. If only.

So, to repeat the obvious: if we want to keep uninformed politicians and bureaucrats, Prime Ministers included, away from making improperly informed policies and decisions, the Voice must get a resounding Yes vote.

If the No vote gets up, some poor decisions will be made in the future that will damage communities. That is a definite.

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“The Voice will provide the ‘interpreters’ that the government needs to listen to genuine issues and develop options for addressing them.”

You mean like the NIAA and many other local and state based consultative bodies are already supposed to be doing? Rather than making divisive changes such as this, maybe spend some time looking into why the current system isn’t working as intended instead?

It’s also a bit rich to criticize Dutton for not concentrating on “the economy and IR reforms and health” when one of the main issues the voting public have with this divisive garbage is that the PM’s obsession with it is to the detriment of far more important things that he desperately needs to be dealing with currently.

Thank you Peter for a well-reasoned article with the common sense of an experienced small business owner and representative. It’s good to see some cut-through on this issue, dispelling the myths and misinformation of some people who seem to have their own agendas in opposing a successful Referendum outcome which will benefit us all. Programs designed and developed with appropriate consultation is the foundation of what this is all about. An Advisory council that won’t be mucked around by politicians is obviously the best course of action.

But wait. Last time, you were saying that obviously it would be parliament who would decide the legislation (“lol”, I think, might have been the phrase), consequently the legislation (always open to amendment) would determine the form of the Voice; and we heathens should educate ourselves that the power lay with the parliamentary process after all. The constitutional amendment was just a generous invitation to walk hand in hand down the road. Well, if so, then the Voice absolutely could be “mucked around by politicians”, constitutional amendment or not (except that with the CA it could never actually be abolished). Unless of course, you tacitly acknowledge the point of the constitutional amendment is to run to the High Court if parliament tries to “muck around”. In which case, it pretty much becomes a separate power beyond democratic reach.

Hi Rusty, I think you have confused my posts with someone else’s as I haven’t said “lol” anywhere (and never do as it’s cliched) nor have I referred to anyone as “heathens” so I assume that is your term and not sure why you’re using it at it is’t relevant in this context. Regarding the role of Parliament, that doesn’t change so no need to feel worried about that. Just to clarify things for you, having the Voice in the Constitution allows for security of the role. It will be enacted by legislation which can be altered, whilst the institution of the Voice will remain. That is important in our system for a separation of powers. If you’re worried about the High Court then I suggest you read the recent views of the Law Council who I guess would know more than you or I about the High Court. It’s sad that there has been a lot of scaremongering about this referendum to recognise Indigenous people in our Constitution and to accord them a Voice as an advisory body to Parliament.

HiddenDragon8:10 pm 26 Sep 23

“Anthony Albanese decided to remove the so-called ‘welfare card’ from Indigenous communities when he came to power in 2022.”

That decision was supported by some indigenous voices and opposed by others, as were changes to alcohol restrictions in indigenous communities.

Those two controversial issues highlight the flaw at the heart of the Voice – i.e. the implicit assumption that there is one good and true indigenous view (which all current and former processes have failed to identify) on most issues and that in the few cases where there is disagreement, this magical new mechanism would be able to massage it into an effective and abiding consensus.

It almost seems like aboriginal people aren’t one monolithic group and localised consultative groups would be far more effective… nah, that’s crazy talk.

Albanese is a politician and a good one. Campaign for No to get the looney left, radical ATSI, assorted Wokeists, Teals and Greens on side, while wedging the Libs. But let the campaign go off the rails and alienate as many people as possible to ensure a No vote wins and doesn’t disrupt the normal operations of government with an unnecessary Constitutional amendment for a tenured ATSI advisory body. Maybe even publicly promote Yes, but privately vote No. Then tearfully blame Dutton in the aftermath of inevitable name calling, wailing, teeth gnashing and recriminations. He can’t lose.

Ha, correction, 1st line: ‘Campaign for YES …’

Yes it was very difficult to parse as it was. But is he “letting” it go off the rails, or is it that he stumbled by forcing the referendum before draft legislation, then stumbled again by saying a one page document that looks like an everyone-signs teenager’s birthday card, rather than a detailed document with legal gravitas, is all there is to it (even a grant application for the local footy club demands more). Then his minister Burney clearly lacks the ability to regain the initiative. They have been complacent, arrogant and ill-prepared, full of hold-my-beer bravado, and got way over their skis. But the result is odds-on to be as you say: failure laid at the feet of those awful hate-driven hoi polloi orchestrated by that awful hate-driven Dutton — why reappraise your own beliefs and actions when you can blame others. Dare I say, that last bit is the problem for this whole policy sector.

Infantilising Indigenous Australians by pandering to ‘cultural’ norms does no-one any good. The author may have needed interpreters in Third World countries but Australia is not one of those. Despite the fact that remotely based indigenous Australians may choose to live in those logistically unserviceable conditions I strongly doubt that The Voice would be seeking their particular solutions given that they’ve had 60 years and a multitude of opportunities to have already made their plight known. And they have done so by numerous other means. They’ve had NGO’s, Religious Organizations, Land Councils, Health Providers, Police, University Researchers, the ABC, SBS and numerous media outlets through news, docos and films. They have the 80 member Council of Peaks. As ‘nice’ as it sounds, the noble savage based consultation of an ESL indigenous elder on spiritual and herbal healing just won’t do the trick. These remote and distant rural based Indigenous Australians have had a myriad of government funded, indigenous designed, indigenous staffed and indigenous run schemes and programs that are only as good as the willingness of the intended recipients to participate. And those schemes have been huge successes in logistically serviceable Metro, regional and larger town settings. As the recent Productivity Commission Interim Report on The Gap plainly stated…remoteness has the biggest negative impact on wellbeing whether you are black or white. We can’t get professionals and tradies in Canberra. How can The Voice promise them in Innamincka? Another cruel delusion.

How do you think that giving people a Voice “infantilises” them? Exactly the opposite would be true.

It’s offensive and outdated to say ‘third world’. Has been for years. It’s more accurate and appropriate to say developing and developed States.

Rob McGuigan3:18 pm 26 Sep 23

You bang on a bit about knowledge framing a YES vote. Albo to date has shown exactly the opposite. “Knowledge framing the debate” doesn’t describe Albo one little bit. He has shown on many topics, especially this racist Voice he is definitely NOT across the detail. He cannot describe how a Voice will work, what it will do how members will be “selected not elected,” or what powers it will have. Only that it’s permanent and will have access to all levels of government beaurocracy, Parliament and the Executive. It will also have appellant rights to the High Court. That’s enough for me and the vast majority to vote NO! And I am!

Peter Strong, you say that a) the constitution has to be reformed, so that b) legislation can be enacted, so that c) indigenous people can be consulted in policy & services specific to their needs. You say only if all of a, b and c are enacted, can politicians be kept from making top-down decisions. And if ‘no’ gets up, politicians and bureaucrats will surely continue to mess things up.

You say “embedding constitutional recognition … [is about] … the right and the need for Indigenous people to be properly consulted and heard.” But there’s no need for constitutional reform to enact Voice. Legislation would be sufficient for that. Constitutional change keeps getting conflated into a necessary prelude for the consultative mechanism. It isn’t, either logically or politically.

Chewy’s link to the SMH article is interesting, because it shows that many leading proponents of the Voice wanted the legislation developed before the referendum. It seems to have been Albo who jumped the gun.

Your piece emphasises is that a top-down approach is clumsy. You say you do international development work, so maybe this means something to you: participatory bottom up and intermediary approaches. So far, this seems to be entirely absent from the debate. A participatory approach goes beyond consultation – a pretty weak form of involvement – into engagement in all steps of the policy and implementation cycle itself. But all we have is arguments over whose top-down approach is best. Also, there’s been no bipartisan reckoning with the record of failure and waste. Too many sacred cows and gate-keepers. To me, it looks like a very immature stage of policy debate.

People are right to say no to the constitutional amendment. It’s premature and unnecessary for what the “yes” campaign publicly says it wants. Evaluation and policy design first, then legislation.

It’s a NO vote from me. This voice will just create another bureaucracy that cannot possibly speak for over 300 indigenous tribes. Likewise we haven’t been told the full details as to how it will operate except for this is the first stage of a treaty process. We need much better leadership than we’ve had in recent times and this will just embed a costly bureaucracy into the system that cannot be cancelled if it doesn’t work.

Vote “No” and we won’t have Albanese hectoring us on things we know won’t work.

Max_Rockatansky12:27 pm 26 Sep 23

Vote No, we are all equal in the eyes of God, and in the eyes of the Constitution.

Just to highlight the government’s mismanagement of this whole proposal, this article outlines the mistruths being used by many yes supporters that detail can’t be and never is provided before a referendum.


The government could and should have produced more detail, there has been nothing to stop them adopting a specific voice model, preparing draft legislation and even already legislating it if they so wished.

If the elected don’t serve the people change who is elected.
The covid lockdowns werent great either. Where is our voice?

I think you’ve just supported Peter Strong’s point in the article as he has said both sides of the political divide were not successful in the formulation of policy, (So just saying “change wh is elected” won’t work). That’s the whole point of having Indigenous representatives advise whatever party forms Government. Makes good sense really.

Why stop at just indigenous representatives? If direct action policy is so positive shouldn’t all Australians irrelevant of whether one is able to tick the indigenous box be able to inform government about what’s best policy?

Why not take the deeper lesson that government rarely makes things better and it would be better for everyone if we stopped believing that government could solve problems?

A big NO from me. The crummy government deserves a big middle finger

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