Rights and Freedoms

Race Is Not Relevant

Written by
28 April 2021
Originally appeared in The Australian

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s recommitment to the indigenous Voice to parliament would not “strengthen our nation” – it would irrevocably and permanently break the country along racial lines.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart’s proposal for a separate representative body written into the Australian Constitution would not be a modest expression of “decency”, as Mr Albanese suggests. The purpose of the Voice is that it will be an influential part of our politics. As prominent Voice advocate Mark Leibler noted in The Australian in January, “Any failure to consult, irrespective of whether the consultation was obligatory or expected, may have political ramification.” The perception of a majority non-indigenous parliament ignoring the advice of an official indigenous-only body would generate accusations of racism that will have a chilling effect on open debate.

Labor’s uncritical adoption of a proposal to entrench in our nation’s constitution a parallel system of political representation for people depending on their racial background is a complete betrayal of the 1967 referendum, where nearly 91 per cent of Australian voters approved of a proposal to remove archaic and divisive references to race from the Australian constitution. It is intellectually disingenuous to use the popularity and success of that referendum to bolster the radical changes being put forward now.

In not recognising any specific group, the Constitution recognises all Australians as being equal members of the political community. This is the spirit of the 1967 referendum that political leaders like Mr Albanese wish to repudiate. The only way to properly honour the 1967 referendum is to acknowledge that there is more that unites Australians than divides them, and to remove the remaining references to race in the Constitution.

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Morgan Begg

Morgan Begg is the Director, Legal Rights Program at the Institute of Public Affairs

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