Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has provided little detail about how his proposed Indigenous-only Voice to Parliament will work in practice. When pressed for more detail about this proposed amendment to the Australian Constitution, the Prime Minister’s only response has been frequent, direct, and explicit references to the model developed through a Voice Co-design process (‘the Calma-Langton Model Voice’) and published in the Co-design Final Report (‘the Calma-Langton Report’).
The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has reviewed the Calma-Langton Report and the Calma-Langton Model Voice. The IPA’s analysis has identified the following problems with this model:
- The Calma-Langton Model Voice is undemocratic: There will be no democratic method of electing or removing members of the Voice under the Calma-Langton Model Voice. The Voice will have the power to influence national laws passed by a democratically elected parliament and to influence decisions made by governments accountable to the people. Yet its members will be elected by, and accountable to, nobody.
- The composition of the Calma-Langton Model Voice is unrepresentative and unfair: Different members of the Voice will represent regions with vastly disproportionate Indigenous populations. Each ACT member of the Voice will represent just 3,700 Indigenous people, whereas each NSW member of the Voice will represent 88,500 Indigenous people.
- The Calma-Langton Model Voice would be litigious: The proposed Voice will hand power from Australian voters to unelected judges. The Calma-Langton Report claims that the representations of the Voice will be ‘non-judiciable’ (not subject to the courts), but this is inconsistent with the actual model set out in the Report. Specifically, the Calma-Langton Report argues that the government should have an ‘obligation to consult’ the Voice in certain circumstances. This can only be enforced through legal recourse. In addition, one of the reports’ authors, Marcia Langton, has explicitly said ‘Why would we restrict the voice to representations that can’t be challenged in court?’
- The Calma-Langton Model Voice is complex and would be expensive: The proposed model has a complex two-tiered structure of 35 Local and Regional Voices and a National Voice. This is unwieldy, complex, and likely very costly. The IPA estimates the staffing costs alone for this immense bureaucratic apparatus could be $605,000,000 per year – about half the annual costs of the Northern Territory hospital system. Further, it is proposed that Local Voices participate in ‘shared decision-making’ with ‘all levels of government’. This bears concerning similarities to New Zealand’s failed ‘co-governance’ model of joint Māori and non-Māori sovereignty. It is also unworkable in practice as it would necessarily compel local and state governments to collaborate, which cannot be achieved via the amendment to the Australian Constitution proposed by the Prime Minister.
- The Calma-Langton Model Voice is divisive: The foundational values of Australian democracy are egalitarianism, the rule of law, and a fair go for all. The Calma-Langton Report, in contrast, is an activist document which prioritises identity politics over our democratic traditions or closing the gap. The Calma-Langton Report uses the term ‘gender’ 81 times, ‘LGBTIQ+’ 12 times, ‘equity’ five times, ‘diverse/diversity’ 97 times and ‘inclusive/inclusion’ 101 times. Regrettably, it only uses the term ‘disadvantage’ eight times, ‘merit’ twice, and ‘competent’ not at all. The term ‘democracy’ is not used once.
In addition, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has criticised the Prime Minister for not providing enough detail about the Voice.
He has written to the Prime Minister: ‘Your government’s position that detail isn’t needed before a vote and will be contained in subsequent legislation is unreasonable, disrespectful to the Australian public and undermines the integrity of the process.’
Mr Dutton then posed 15 questions that he believes voters deserve answers to. By way of response, Prime Minister Albanese pointed to the Calma-Langton Report.
This Report provides very little detail about important aspects of how the Voice would operate. The key questions of when it speaks, who does the speaking, and how it speaks are all left unanswered. IPA Research has established that of Mr Dutton’s 15 questions, the Calma-Langton Report provides:
- No details in respect to seven questions.
- Insufficient detail in respect to seven questions.
- A clear answer to only one question.
The government has made it clear that it intends to proceed with the referendum on the Voice without further details being provided other than the Calma-Langton Report and a brief eight-point statement of ‘Design Principles’, which simply summarise parts of the report. IPA Research has established, however, that the Calma-Langton Report does not provide the detail that Australian voters need to know if they are to make an informed decision at the Referendum later this year. The details that the Calma-Langton Report does provide amount to a proposed Voice which is undemocratic, unfair, complex, and divisive.