Voice: A renamed ATSIC for the Constitution?

COMMENT by DON FULLER

The ALP will once again cause major problems for both Aboriginal people and the wider Australian community due to its naivety and a superficial understanding of Aboriginal human development in remote regions.

The Whitlam government’s introduction of self-government and self-government in the early 1970s led to devastating living conditions and consequences for Aboriginal people living in rural and remote regions where most Aboriginal people live.

“The Voice” is the current handout Mr Albanese is throwing at his left-wing faction.

As with the Whitlam government, this is likely to further escalate Aboriginal misery and create growing divisions within the Australian community.

Around 35% of Australia’s Aboriginal people live in major cities, with 65% in regional and remote areas.

Many urban left-wing elite activists who loudly say they speak on behalf of Aboriginal people have little or no experience of life in remote communities.

They also have very weak ties to traditional Aboriginal culture and law.

When disadvantaged and marginalized, such urban Aboriginal people have much more in common with poor urban whites than Aboriginal people living in remote regions.

This is evident in the virtue signaled by ‘Welcome to the Country’ presentations, where body paint, dance and musical instruments are more reminiscent of a school play than a serious and respectful appreciation of traditional Aboriginal cultures.

Such a mark of virtue is an insult to traditional Aboriginal people and to the wider Australian community.

It is primarily such ‘awakened’ urban Aborigines who have pushed the left wing of the Labor Party to include ‘The Voice’ in the Australian Constitution.

A similar voice of government already existed in the form of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). This organization existed from 1990 to 2005. It too was founded under an ALP government.

ATSIC was also to be the body through which Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were formally involved in the processes of government that affected their lives.

ATSIC comprised widely elected regional councils set up across Australia and a committee of commissioners who made policy and funding decisions.

However, this body was characterized by corruption, mismanagement and serious alleged criminal behavior by its leadership. It was utterly ineffective in overcoming the major problems faced by Aboriginal people – particularly in the remote regions of Australia.

As a result, it was disbanded in 2005.

A big problem with The Voice is that its proponents want it enshrined in the constitution, so it cannot be abolished even if it follows ATSIC’s performance.

By placing the body in the constitution, the proposal suggests that the body can survive regardless of unacceptable performance.

This is an unprecedented proposal within responsible governance regimes anywhere in the world!

Such a body would, like ATSIC, be elected by Indigenous Australians who could de facto veto any policy or legislation found to affect Indigenous Australians. This would likely include all policies and legislation presented to the Australian Parliament.

It would therefore have enormous power and influence and, despite vehement denials, would effectively become a third chamber of parliament.

To further increase the insurmountable problems this would pose for the government of Australia, there would be a ‘divination’ commission and treaty. This would inevitably lead to compensatory payments or reparations to be financed by taxpayers and put a considerable strain on federal and state budgets.

What about the proposal for a “vote” to government that is likely to drastically change the disastrous outcomes or differ from ATSIC?

Neither the government nor supporters of The Voice have released details about how it will work in practice or how ATSIC’s previous problems could be avoided.

This is a big problem as the intention is to include this new body in an amended constitution.

For example, how will The Voice deal with the waste and incompetence that has been common to ATSIC and many Aboriginal organizations?

The ALP aims to be a party with the ideals of economic and social equality for all Australians. However, their political representatives seem speechless and clueless as they address the vital issues of economic and human development for those living in remote regions.

NT Senator Jacinta Price, on the other hand, rightly points to the need for legislative change in a number of practical areas.

It also calls for economic development to be the main basis for improving the living standards and human development of the indigenous people.

In the Northern Territory, Aborigines own around 45% of the land area and 80% of the coastline. However, due to roadblocks imposed by governments, such vast assets have failed to create economic and employment opportunities.

Urgent legislative changes are needed to reform the Land Rights Act and the Land Councils, which act as impenetrable guardians of economic development on Aboriginal land.

For many years, commentators have pointed to the significant economic activity that could be generated by joint venture operations in a wide range of industries, including horticulture, tourism, environmental management, forestry, agriculture and pastoralism.

There is also a great opportunity for small business development in remote Aboriginal communities such as bakeries, petrol stations, laundrettes, furniture retail and landscaping.

However, governments listened with open ears and lacked the courage and determination to act.

It’s far from clear how The Voice to the government will change that. We can expect an endless gravy train of reparations for past misdeeds from those who claim to have a relationship with Aboriginal people, however marginal.

Such payments are likely to reduce the resources available to indigenous people living in remote regions and further damage already unsustainable living conditions.

If we are to thrive as a nation in the interests of all citizens, we must find ways to work together for mutual benefit, rather than increasing divisions within our society.

dr Don Fuller has published extensively on the economic development of Aboriginal people in remote regions of the Northern Territory. He has worked in a number of remote communities in the Territory trying to help set up small businesses to help community development. dr Fuller visits Alice Springs occasionally.

PHOTO above from Facebook.