Voice 8.0 risker than forebears because it will be written into the Constitution

Voice 8.0 risker than forebears because it will be written into the Constitution. By Nick Cater.

The Whitlam government’s National Aboriginal Consul­tative Committee (1973-77) was replaced by the National Aboriginal Conference (1977-85), which in turn was scrapped to make way for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (1989-2005). The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (1991-2000), the National Indigenous Council (2005-07), the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (2009-19) and the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council (2013-19) were established with the same objective of allowing Indigenous voices to be heard in the corridors of power. …

The first of the seven previous failures:

Elections for the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee were held on November 24, 1973, just 354 days into office. Confusion abounded. Writing in The Age in September 1973, Michelle Grattan described it as a “Black Parliament”, despite the government’s insistence that it would be merely advisory.

Senator Neville Bonner, the only elected Indigenous voice in parliament at that time, described it as a form of apartheid: “To have a separate parliament and a separate electoral roll on which only Aboriginal people will be listed will divide the Aboriginal people not only among themselves but also from the rest of the Australian community. I give a warning here and now that this will cause a lot more trouble than people seem to realise.”

Electoral officials had just 18 days to assemble a voting register. Only 27,000 of the 116,000 Aboriginal Australians recorded in the 1971 census voted.

The 41 elected members were paid a salary of $6000, roughly equivalent to the average wage, plus expenses. At their first meeting on December 18, the one and only demand was that their salaries be doubled, secretaries allocated to each member and that they be issued with cars.

Those demands not being met, the committee emerged from its second meeting in February 1974 with a threat to walk out.

It was followed by a demand for complete control over the $114m allocated to Aboriginal affairs. …

Thus, the first attempt to give Indigenous Australians a voice to parliament fell foul of the iron law of government funding: the first and often only beneficiaries of programs are those paid to administer them.

Doing it again:

The lack of detail on the latest proposal, including crucial information on how much members of the voice will be paid and who will hold them to account, gives us little confidence that it will be able to avoid the pitfalls of its predecessors.

There is no guarantee that it will not become just another sinecure for the Aboriginal elite, remote from the lives of those it is intended to serve. …

Repeating the same ideological failure:

Albanese’s proposal is but the latest iteration of the failed technocratic approach to Aboriginal affairs now 50 years old. It holds that the physical and emotional needs of Indigenous Australians will be met only once social justice, property rights and compensation have been secured.

Anthropologist Peter Sutton is one of the few former advocates of this approach to renounce it. In his seminal 2010 book The Politics of Suffering, Sutton documents the breakdown in social order, the decline of literacy and health in towns such as Aurukun since the 1970s.

Our mistake, he argues, was to imagine that the solutions to human problems lie in politics and law rather than in the practical application of basic human rights. “This unscientific mumbo jumbo beggars belief,” Sutton writes. “It relies on a kind of magical cause-and-effect relationship, as if a treaty between ‘races’ will keep children safe in their beds at night.”

The 8th time will be lucky for sure, so it’s safe to make it permanent by putting it in the Constitution.