Voice an affirmative action measure

  • 10 August 2023

Australia’s now 122-year-old constitution still doesn’t recognise our first Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s time it did. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have asked that the form of recognition come through a Voice to Parliament, which will give advice on laws and policies that affect Indigenous people.

The Voice is an affirmative action measure as it is intended to recognise the special role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Australians in our history and the unique and distressing reality for far too many within that community: chronic disadvantage.

Voice would establish a consultative body of Indigenous representatives who have the right to consult with government about policies that may impact the Indigenous community.

It is intended that such a consultation process will improve the effectiveness of policies and mitigate the disadvantages suffered by the community.  Recognising that inequalities currently suffered by Australia’s Indigenous population – in life expectancy, health, education, income and rates of incarceration –exist.  Time to move past some of the most disturbing parts of our history.

To end the pretense that Aboriginal Australians were not treated as non-citizens for many decades, were not deprived of the vote, were not separated from their families, and were not subjected to massacres and violence.

It also time to eliminate from our minds the special legal doctrine that was created and used until 1992 – called “terra nullius” – which pretended that Aboriginal Australians were not occupying the land when white settlers colonised it and took it away from them.

The No campaign tells us to forget about all of it and pretend it never happened or mattered.

Our history shows that Australia divided Indigenous Australians because of their race.

The legacy of that history and policies that haven’t worked is that the Indigenous community does not enjoy equality of opportunity or outcome with non-Indigenous Australians.

There is not a single non-Indigenous Australian clamouring for equal opportunity of life expectancy with Indigenous Australians.

If politicians respond to protracted inequality experienced by different groups by continuing to treat them as equals, they perpetuate that inequality.

The Voice provides a critical opportunity to confer constitutional recognition on Australia’s First Peoples and establish a modest consultative mechanism that seeks to close the gap in measures that divide us by race.