Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Debate over a Voice to Parliament has to get beyond emotion

There seems to be a radical disconnect between the Aboriginal community and the mainstream when it comes to discussions of the Reconciliation Council's 2017 report. I have written about this report at least twice on this blog since August 2017 when it was released. Left-wing culture warriors are not helping to bridge the divide however, and there is a startling lack of facts in any of the discussions that are taking place online.

The Liberal Party has said that a Voice to Parliament would function as a third chamber in Parliament and both prime ministers – Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison – have refused to bring the issue to the people for a vote. The report itself says "the structure and functions of the [Voice are] to be defined by Parliament". There is a document publicly available, a discussion paper, that goes into some detail about how a Voice might work. It is called ‘Hearing Indigenous Voices: Options for Discussion’ and I think it is available on the Parliament House website. I forget how I got hold of my copy, but I printed it out and have read part of it. The document runs to about 50 pages and goes into a lot of detail about how a Constitutionally-mandated Voice could operate.

The thing to know at this point in the process is that there is a lot of detail available but not much of it is being used in conversations that are taking place. Presumably someone in the Liberal Party has read the discussion document (in addition to the Reconciliation Council’s report). But as far as I know no-one in the broader community has referred to it apart from the fellow on Twitter who helpfully brought it to my attention. If you do a Google search for the document there are no news articles that reference it, for example.

The document offers two different options for how a Voice would function. In either case there is a lot of detail to consider, and none of this interesting material has been mentioned in the public sphere as far as I’m aware.

So unless the government starts to look at the matter with some industry and application nothing will be resolved. If the government won’t talk about it the media will ignore it. Meanwhile the LWCWs get more and more incensed and the Aboriginal community turns to rhetorical tactics such as sarcasm in an effort to sway the government and make it act. It seems that Aboriginal people want the matter to be brought to a vote by the public before the actual details are worked out. This seems to be the message I am getting from that community in the public sphere. This seems to me to put the cart before the horse.

It's not hard to come to the conclusion that the government has reached, moreover. What would happen if the Voice came to a different conclusion than the House of Reps or the Senate, or both? How would such an impasse (on a piece of legislation the Voice was asked to adjudicate on) be resolved? How would you decide which bills were to be looked at by the Voice? Who would be electing the representatives who would sit on the Voice? How do you decide if someone is Aboriginal or not?

A Parliamentary committee toured the country to get input from people in different communities and made a report to the government in November of this year. I don’t remember hearing much about it in the media at the time and there is one Australian Broadcasting Corporation story about it. But until the government makes an announcement it is unlikely that the press gallery will look into the options that are being considered by different people in Australia. There has clearly been a lot of discussion about these matters involving a lot of people. But the debate has not started in public because the government doesn’t want it to.

There are still so many questions to answer in the case, including whether the Voice will be based on a piece of legislation alone or also on a Constitutional amendment. Some think that having the right to a Voice enshrined in the Constitution will make it less easily dispensed with by any future government, but simply using a bill in Parliament would be easier to action in practice. Meanwhile, the LWCWs just slam you for daring to ask them and the government is not budging. The Opposition says that it will put the matter to a popular vote but that is still no guarantee that it will succeed in actual fact. Referendums do not usually pass in this country and I cannot see this one getting up without bipartisan support.

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