‘Voices’ Are Stacked Against Remote Indigenous Communities

Written by:
12 October 2023
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In this article, Margaret Chambers contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into 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.

‘We need to listen to people’ so that ‘governments actually respond to people on the ground’.

These were the words of the Prime Minister on Tuesday, spruiking his proposed Voice to Parliament days out from the referendum, but the question remains: whose voices will the Prime Minister be listening to if the Voice prevails?

Throughout the referendum campaign, the Prime Minister and other Voice advocates have invoked the name of the Calma-Langton report whenever questions are raised about the critical details of their proposal.

Far from being a voice for disadvantaged remote Indigenous communities, new analysis of the Calma-Langton report by the Institute of Public Affairs shows that should the Voice be supported by Australians, it certainly won’t be the voices of remote Indigenous communities that will be listened to in Canberra – they will, in fact, be stacked out.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies lists 356 language, social, or nation groupings of Indigenous Australians within the country, with three-quarters of these found in regional and remote areas.

Yet, their interests, according to the dictates of the Calma-Langton report, are going to be best served by the Voice to Parliament having just 30 per cent of its seats allocated to remote representation.

The IPA’s research finds that urban Indigenous communities would have two and half times more representation on the Voice to Parliament than remote Indigenous communities. Nor does the Calma-Langton report address how the 31 Indigenous communities that extend across multiple state and territory boundaries will be represented.

The Prime Minister has been at pains to tell Australians this week that the Voice is a ‘clear, simple, straightforward’ solution to Indigenous disadvantage. But, as the IPA’s research shows, it is anything but.

Rather than setting out in detail the roles, powers and functions of the Voice to Parliament model, the Calma-Langton report reveals how the proposed model will be structurally biased against regional and remote communities.

It means those most disadvantaged are at risk of being drowned out by more vocal and numerous urban delegates – those familiar activists from the political class and activists.

In remote Australia, Indigenous Australians suffer worse life outcomes than those in urban areas. They experience avoidable deaths at more than double the rate of Indigenous Australians living in major cities, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Indigenous Australians die six to seven years earlier, are less educated, and face higher rates of unemployment than those Indigenous Australians in urban areas.

But advocates of the Voice would have us believe that, rather than addressing these problems, the solution to improving remote disadvantage is through a body enshrined in the Constitution composed of 24 members, based in Canberra, making ‘representations’ to other politicians.

The ability to make representations implies that the Voice would be representative, yet the federal government’s preferred model quite literally marginalises those Indigenous Australians most in need.

Worse still, the proposed Voice to Parliament model would create yet another source of division in an already divided community, between Indigenous Australians in remote communities and the activist urban elite that already dominates the Indigenous affairs debate – and who have little success to show for their activism to date.

There is genuine goodwill among Australians, people who want better outcomes for Indigenous communities, but the Voice model being offered to voters is one that has been designed – whether intentionally or not – to sideline vulnerable communities while serving as a powerful platform for the urban elite and inner-city activists to push a divisive agenda.

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