By Sean Gordon
The response of some politicians to the Referendum Council’s report and its recommendation for a constitutionally guaranteed Indigenous voice to parliament has been truly appalling. Yet I am not surprised. They are playing true to form for politicians on Indigenous constitutional recognition.
Be they the leaders of the parties or the Indigenous parliamentarians, with the exception perhaps of Bill Shorten, these people are all talking the same thing. They are all kicking the can down the road. They are all shirking their responsibility. They are all displaying lack of leadership. It’s all too hard for them, so they want to pass the buck to future generations.
It’s exactly what every politician has done for decades. Hawke did it: he promised a treaty and never delivered. Howard dropped kicked his attempt at a symbolic preamble out of the field – not through the goal posts but straight into a failed referendum. Now some politicians want to re-run that failure. They are sticking to their pre-determined ‘done deal’ push minimalism, and symbolic words in the Constitution (Ken Wyatt), even though that failed before.
They are pushing for tinkering with the race clauses (Linda Burney), even though those reforms have been proposed before and gone nowhere. We all know that the rabbit hole of the race clauses leads to nothing but minimalism. We’ve been down those rabbit holes for the past several years. It’s Groundhog Day. These pollies want to return to the rabbit hole, because they want their pre-decided minimalist model.
They are using all their delay and distraction tactics. The Prime Minister called the Voice to parliament a “big, new idea”. Leaving aside that it is not new, and it is in fact a modest proposal supported by key constitutional conservatives, his words are code for it being too hard. Pat Dodson echoed these views.
Frankly, you could only call a First Nations body in the Constitution a new idea if you haven’t paid attention for three years. Is that what the PM and Dodson are telling us?
Linda Burney confused the issue with a classic dummy, revisiting the ‘race’ proposals that not only were rejected by the Uluru Convention but are politically impossible, as Ken Wyatt proved when he abandoned his own Committee’s recommendations for reform of the Race Power, back in 2015. There can be no more effective a kicking of the can than to pretend to go ahead with what we all know is politically impossible.
Key Wyatt then punted the can into the stands with his suggestion that all 780,000 Indigenous people need to be consulted for a national First Nations body to go forward. Really? Does Ken consult with every single individual impacted by each decision he makes? What about parliamentary responsibility? We’ve just finished an extensive consultation process. After all, is this not why Ken and the government he is part of recently amended the Native Title Act? Was that not about avoiding the madness of 100% consensus?
Frankly, Ken and other politicians mentioned are showing a shameful disrespect for the Uluru process. Anyone who reads the Referendum Council report will be aware of the legitimate processes followed. This is just the government shirking responsibility.
The same goes for their complaint that more detail is needed on the body. Yes detail is needed, and that is Parliament’s job, in collaboration with Indigenous people. The voice proposal is intended to uphold parliamentary supremacy and responsibility. Do politicians expect civilians to draft legislation now? They should do what they were voted in to do: lead. Is this what they want an extra year in office for – sitting on their hands and telling others to do what is their work?
The Uluru outcome is clear and precise. They agreed on a consensus position and they articulated this in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The submissions from the wider public also preferenced this reform.
The Referendum Council, after exhaustive consideration, considering the law and politics, agreed with the Uluru delegates with one, single constitutional reform: an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
The politicians asked for comprehensive consultation. They were bipartisan in their commitment to only progress what Indigenous people want. Then, when the consultation happens and the answer comes, they say they don’t like what they hear. They throw every excuse on why they cannot proceed. They kick the can down the road.
Credit where due, only Bill Shorten resisted the urge. He called upon others to face up to the challenge now. He said we can do this and we can do this now. He didn’t kick the can down the road.
We hear all the time people say we have no leadership in this country. The response to the Referendum Council recommendation for a simple and modest reform, an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, shows this to be true.
Stop kicking this can down the road. Stand up and take responsibility. Be leaders.
- Sean Gordon is Chief Executive of the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council and Chair of Uphold & Recognise.