Tuesday, 12 June 2018

We still possess no details about the “Voice to Parliament”

Last night I had a dream. I was in Japan and talking with some union bosses about a company named Crown that had something to do with trucking. The unionists wanted something from the company and had decided to call a global strike on the company. I enthusiastically agreed with the move, telling the men that workers everywhere had been losing out in the fight to own the profits that companies were increasingly making, and that throughout the world the managerial class had been quarantining money for themselves at the expense of the worker. In Australia, I told the men, young people could no longer afford to buy their own houses because wages were not keeping up with increases in real estate prices.

I woke up before dawn and got out of bed with the images from the dream still fresh in my mind. I feel that the future of civilisation lies in the hands of a small group of very wealthy, very selfish people who cannot see that the fortunes of everyone are connected, and that if you take away prosperity from the masses then you invite demagogues to take the reins of power, which will result in everyone’s freedom being taken away except for that of an elite who can afford to buy their own. We all risk ending up like China or Russia.

When I turn to look at the future of Aboriginal people living in Australia, it strikes me that it has been almost a year since the Referendum Council handed down its report. I wrote about it on 5 August last year, and I was sceptical about its recommendations because of the lack of detail. It turned out that the Liberal-National Coalition was equally wary of what the report suggests we should as a nation do to help improve the fate of our first inhabitants. The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has said many times in the media that a “Voice to Parliament” – an elected body representing the first people living here – would operate like a third chamber of Parliament. He will not support this aspect of the report, and it seems as a result the whole thing has fallen apart.

In Victoria and the Northern Territory, elected representatives have been moving to establish treaties to embody the relationship between the state and their first peoples. In Canberra, Bill Shorten, the leader of the Opposition, has said he will support the Referendum Council’s recommendations if elected. It looks increasingly likely that he will be elected next year when the general election is held. But the support of one of the major parties is not necessarily enough to accomplish the goal. You still need to hold a referendum, which will be difficult to win if you don’t have bilateral support because of the margin that the motion that is put forward has to achieve in the poll.

Meanwhile, there is still no detail about how the “Voice to Parliament” is supposed to work. Aboriginal people want this body to be established because they only account for about three percent of the population and they want their views to be given more prominence in Parliament. It would therefore operate as a sort of amplifier. But many things are still to work out. You wonder for a start how anyone would be chosen to become an elector. Who will decide if one man or woman is eligible to be counted as a member of the Aboriginal community, so that they will have a vote in who sits in the body? What sorts of legislation would the new body be able to vote on? What would happen if it was unable to agree with the decision that the Parliament had made about a piece of legislation? What, exactly, would be the relationship between the body and Parliament? How will that work?

There are so many questions to answer and no-one is making any noises that would result in satisfactory answers appearing. Meanwhile, the electorate is quietly getting on with life in the age of Donald trump, wondering when the next shock will appear, and where. Today, the US president is meeting the with head of North Korea in Singapore to discuss the situation in north Asia, a place where the DPRK holds Japan to ransom with its missiles and nuclear weapons. Japan is one of Australia’s closest allies, and their fate should be important for all of us here. What influence we might have with regard today’s meeting it is difficult to estimate, but it’s a lot closer to zero than to 100 percent. Maybe we need an “Australian Voice to Congress” here?

UPDATE Friday 15 June 2018, 9.43am: So today on Twitter I see a tweet that tells me that there's a parliamentary committee looking at the issues surrounding the proposed constitutional recognition of Australia's first peoples, and that it is currently touring the country for meetings and taking submissions. They will make a final report at the end of November.

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