AN ABORIGINAL VOICE TO PARLIAMENT – A Waste of Time?
The federal government proposes to hold a referendum to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to parliament. It appears the ‘Voice’ will not have any power to make or reject legislation but act as an advisory body and make representations to parliament and the executive government on matters relating to Indigenous people.
If it is only an advisory body one wonders why the need for a referendum, especially as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) was set up and later dismantled with no referendum. (1)
ATSIC operated from 1990-2005 to allow Indigenous Australians to become involved in the processes of government affecting their lives. It was dismantled by the Howard government after controversies including allegations that its chairperson, Geoff Clark, had raped four women in the 1970s and 1980s. There were also allegations of corruption and embezzlement of funds. (2)
What did ATSIC achieve for Indigenous Australians? It appears not much as social problems that plagued their community are at much worse levels than in the mainstream Australian community.
Statistics show that unemployment among Indigenous is twice that of the rest of the country, twice as many are relying on a government pension or similar allowance, they are half as likely to own their own home, three times more likely to live in overcrowded dwellings and seven times as likely to live in social housing. There was little change in the proportion of indigenous households that owned their home between 2008 and 2014-15. In remote areas the proportion of Indigenous aged 15-64 not in the workforce is almost 50% and in very remote areas the figure is higher. Other social problems like unemployment, welfare dependency and low incomes are worse in remote areas than for Indigenous in major cities. Apparently the closer they live to whites the less are the social problems. (3)
The infant mortality rate (IMR) among the Indigenous is also worse than the rest of the population. In 2021 the Indigenous IMR was 5.0 per 1,000 live births but the non-Indigenous was only 3.1. The Indigenous IMR tends to range from 4.2 in the major cities up to 7.9 in remote and very remote areas. Again the most assimilated and integrated Indigenous – and probably those with more white ancestry - have less problems. Surprisingly the IMR for the non-Indigenous is 3.0 in the cities, rises to 3.5 in the regions but then falls to 2.7 in remote and very remote areas. (4)
How does Aboriginal IMRs compare to those in the black run countries like New Guinea or black Africa? Botswana, one of the better run nations in Africa, has a rate of 25.18 per 1,000 live births, Papua-New Guinea 33.59, Angola 58.86, Democratic Republic of Congo 60.85 and South Sudan 63.18. (5) This makes Australia look like a pretty good place to be born, Aboriginal or white.
Then there is the cost of the referendum. The recent federal budget allocated $75 million just to start setting up for the referendum and those making donations to the group backing the constitutional change can claim a tax deduction. How many houses could be built with this money?
There is also the question of equality and discrimination. Does any other ethnic group get a “voice” to influence our leaders? Did we get a say on immigration, free trade or the hundreds of treaties we entered into with the United Nations? No – the government just went ahead and then tried to brainwash us about any claimed benefits.
It’s hard to see any substantial benefits flowing from the Voice for either black or white Australians, it is treating people differently on the basis of race, and hundreds of millions will be spent that could be used better elsewhere. And much of it based on an ideology of scapegoating white Australians for Indigenous problems.
(1) Lorena Allam, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/aug/28/how-would-an-indigenous-voice-work-..
(5) CIA WorldFactbook, Downloaded October 2022