In this article, Morgan Begg 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.
The recent state parliamentary report into recreational native bird hunting gives Victorians a taste of the kind of division the Voice to Parliament will have across every area of life in regional Australia should advocates for constitutional change be successful at the October referendum.
The report, almost 300 pages long, lays out a recipe for the kind of race-based division of laws and rights that the federal government would make permanent nationwide.
Without any solid justification – except, it would seem, that some people do not like bird hunting – the committee has recommended the Victorian government end recreational bird hunting on all public and private land from 2024.
Only that would not apply to everyone. According to the committee, the hunting rights of ‘traditional owners’ should be retained.
Other key recommendations include that the government introduce additional protections for ‘Aboriginal cultural heritage’ sites and current penalties for ‘cultural destruction’. The committee even recommends a government re-education program that would require hunters to learn about ‘Aboriginal cultural heritage awareness’.
One of the claims made in support of the committee’s proposed restrictions is that bird hunting is a niche practice and only 0.4 per cent of Victorians hold a bird hunting licence.
It is not clear whether the committee questioned how many ‘traditional owners’ are currently exercising their hunting rights. One gets the impression that it would not matter to the committee members, as its position is that one category of Victorian deserves greater protection.
This goes right to the heart of the concern of a growing number of Australians when it comes to the proposed Voice to Parliament, that laws are increasingly being used to separate people into different groups.
Brazen in its divisiveness, the Victorian parliamentary committee said it would be too cruel if Victorians who do not have Indigenous heritage were allowed to continue to hunt, but it would not be too cruel if those Victorians were Indigenous.
The same concerns became a flashpoint in Western Australia recently, with the confusion and concern generated by proposed Indigenous Cultural Heritage laws. These now abandoned reforms would have mandated property owners obtain permission from local Indigenous authorities before even a fence post could have been dug on land only slightly larger than a suburban block.
The Western Australian reforms were abandoned after overwhelming community pressure following statements of the newly appointed Premier Roger Cook let the cat out of the bag saying his ‘cultural heritage laws do the same thing as the Voice.’
Claims that people should be divided and given different rights would become more commonplace if the indigenous-only voice to parliament – a parallel system of political representation based on race – is inserted into the Australian Constitution.
The federal government’s proposed constitutional change would establish the voice and give it the constitutional duty to make ‘representations’ to the Parliament and the executive government. This means the voice would be empowered to intervene at all stages of the lawmaking process – not just the drafting, review, and debate of laws, but also the right to make representations about how laws are enforced.
There is no limit to the scope of matters that the voice may make recommendations. If passed, the Voice would have the right to make representations to the government ‘on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’. This, in effect, means any issue because all Indigenous Australians are Australians, and the law applies to all Australians equally – or at least it should.
Any disputes in the lawmaking process between the Canberra Voice to pParliament and the elected Parliament will not be resolved democratically. Because the Canberra Voice to Parliament will be enshrined in the Constitution, it will be the High Court that will determine the scope, rights, and powers of the Voice and adjudicate disputes.
The Victorian bird hunting inquiry demonstrates how issues of general concern can quickly be hijacked by activists pushing a divisive agenda and demands for separate treatment can be accommodated by dismantling the principle of equality before the law. At the referendum on October 14, 2023, this could become a permanent feature of our way of life.