In this article, Daniel Wild contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into the Australian constitution, conducted as part of the IPA’s analysis of the Voice to Parliament. The IPA has been researching the consequences a potential Voice to Parliament would have to the political freedom, liberty, and equality of Australians since the Uluru Statement of the Heart was first being drafted.
Come hell or high water, or polling that shows Australians are divided, the Prime Minister has declared that he will not be stopped in his quest to hold a referendum on the Indigenous-only Voice to Parliament later this year.
Yet, public sentiment is not trending his way. The PM now finds himself with the unenviable political task of attempting to keep on-side fringe radicals, such as Voice campaigner Thomas Mayo who is calling for reparations, while at the same time soothing the valid concerns of mainstream Australians.
Just last week the PM again made the claim that the Voice will merely be an advisory body. Never mind that his statement contradicts what he has said previously and lacks any factual basis given the established role and powers of the High Court.
To calm concern, the PM even went so far as to claim that the Voice will not have a veto power over major decisions of the federal government. Yet, this claim directly contradicts his comment at the 2022 Garma Festival that “it would be a very brave government” that defies the edicts of the Voice. It is little wonder then that the federal government has now gone into damage control, pleading that the Voice would not have far-reaching consequences.
And herein lies the problem. The PM has been caught telling Voice supporters on the one hand that he will stick to the dramatic and far-reaching Voice model that will have the ability to intervene in everything from the setting of interest rates to abolishing Australia Day.
But on the other, he is desperately assuring concerned Australians that his model of constitutional change will be limited and modest.
Understandably, most people’s eyes glaze over when they are subjected to the fine detail of constitutional matters. But as we will soon be required to vote on the most significant change to our Constitution ever proposed, Australians are entitled to the facts. This is a serious matter with permanent consequences for our nation. If you change the Constitution, you change how our country runs. And whatever you insert into the Constitution, it is ultimately up to the High Court to determine its scope and power.
Under the separation of powers – a cornerstone principle of democratic countries like Australia – the government of the day cannot tell the High Court what constitutional matters it can or cannot be involved in.
No matter what the PM says, nothing can be done to prevent the Voice from challenging government decisions it does not like in the courts. As esteemed former High Court justice Ian Callinan said, the Voice could lead to “a decade or more of constitutional and administrative law litigation”.
Significantly, not even backers of the Voice are buying the spin. Reports have surfaced that University of NSW constitutional law expert George Williams recently said claims made by the federal government in Parliament are unlikely to limit the scope of the Voice, and that it would be up to the High Court to interpret the wording. This is why a growing number of Australians are now coming to understand that the Voice is risky, uncertain and divisive.
It is risky because putting the Voice in the Constitution means it will be there forever. If it makes a mistake, it can’t be removed, other than by another referendum.
It is uncertain because the government says one thing to its activist base and another to mainstream Australians.
Marcia Langton, who is co-author of the report that created the Voice model, said recently: “Our Constitution is racist … it was designed as a racist Constitution” and that “people who are opposing (the Voice referendum) are saying we are destroying the fabric of their sacred Constitution. Yes, that’s right, that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
And it is divisive because it will give one group of Australians extra and separate political and legal rights because of their race.
Every fair-minded Australian wants better outcomes for Indigenous Australians in remote communities. We must do better as a nation to address the dysfunction, violence and joblessness which have ravaged too many communities for too long.
That’s precisely why Albanese needs to be up front with Australians and stop playing tricky word games. The Voice to Parliament represents the biggest change to our Constitution since Federation in 1901, and it is on track to divide us like never before.