different in colour brought together

How not to become the bogans of Planet Earth

Saturday 30 September 2023 4:24 PM

Right, I'm at the begging stage, seriously. I beg those of my friends intending to vote "No" to step back from that precipice. I've written and shared blog pieces and posted numerous memes, opinion pieces, fact-check reports, etc, etc. I've even lowered myself to the odd YouTube video I think. And I've waded through tense exasperated conversation after tense exasperated conversation after calmer conversation after calmer conversation in comment threads.

I won't rehash or respond to the "No" arguments again right here. (The RMIT ABC Fact Check piece I posted yesterday should cover all that). What I will do right here, as we all stare down the barrel of the last fortnight before the Referendum, is appeal to whatever may be left in the souls of social media junkees (yes, like me) of our culture's erstwhile pride in its experts. In this case, that's legal experts, the Voice being a Constitutional matter above all else. 

Yes, yes, I know; there are constitutional law experts on YouTube and so on who forewarn at least the potential of dire consequences if the Voice comes about. (Still, at least that shows you can appreciate and commend expert testimony, right? Even if only the experts who agree with you. In which case ... wait, never mind; another time). 

Some experts …

Just so long as we're clear on two common factors with those experts. (i) They comprise a minority among their peers (and like it or not, democracy is guided by majorities as the safest way forward; and there are sound reasons for that). And (ii) many of their testimonies are not in fact about what we now know the Voice is / will be, but rather hypotheticals about undesirable unforseen consequences down the track if the Voice leaves room for 
x, y  or worst of all z

Now here's the really important thing about that last bit. Most of these opinions were recorded and disseminated before 19 June of this year. No, not my birthday. Not even one of the King's many birthdays. (No wonder he shows his age). No, I mean the day our Parliament passed the piece of legislation that enabled the Referendum to proceed. Included very crucially in that legislation were (i) the wording of the question to appear on the ballot paper, and (ii) the wording of the proposed Constitutional amendment that will establish the Voice, assuming a successful referendum. 

19 June was the day the parameters for the Voice were set in stone. Nothing can now be added or subtracted short of another separate referendum. There's no excuse for ignorance of those texts. They're in the Electoral Commission referendum pamphlet we've all received in the post, and readily available online. Most of the minority legal perspectives are from before 19 June, when speculation was all that was possible. Few have been after that date, and none I'm aware of make any reference to the amendment content. Call me a cynic, but I think that might be because there's nothing in it that would reasonably allow any of the feared hypotheticals to proceed. But if you doubt that, please read your pamphlet and see what you think.

Most experts …

Returning now to what is the very clear majority legal consensus. (And as well as being the majority, it includes far more of the most senior and eminent jurists). A few days ago I posted this link to the Law Council of Australia website, highlighting in particular a webinar in which several very eminent legal eagles discuss the merits of the proposed Voice amendment and respond to questions. The published video of the webinar is there for the viewing. Heads up - It's not the most riveting watch. A bunch of talking heads, some seeming to exude the personality of a doorstop. But I guess our taxes don't pay them to excite us, and it's unlikely any of us will need to watch the next episode or ever be obligated to invite one of them to our birthday party. And anyhow, hey, if you can you drum up the grace to listen to Grandpa banging on incessantly about his days as a Scout Patrol Leader, you can find the mental energy to see it through with a few professors and KCs. What we do pay them for is to really know the Constitution and our Laws.

Today I came across an opinion piece on a friend’s Facebook profile, one I missed a fortnight ago. (Here it is again if you don’t have a NineMedia subscription). This one is from another eminent jurist, human rights barrister and author, Geoffrey Robertson. Like the folk from the Law Council, he too darn well should be heard by thoughtful Australians at this time. Apart from the Constitution itself, what he brings to the table is an international or global perspective with decades in the game. I’ve been begging from the start. But I really really quadruple beg you to take this one in and chew over it. Robertson warns us (and he should know!) what’s at stake for us as a nation in the community of nations should the Voice Referendum fail, as is looking all too likely. This could hurt us all for a long time. (As if it won’t hurt our indigenous sisters and brothers more than enough. And that’s another subject …) As Robertson notes,

In the USA, Canada, and several nations in northern Europe, Indigenous people are guaranteed their land and legal rights to petition the government. From New Zealand to Mauritius, they have their own seats in parliament.

A UN declaration, celebrated this week on its anniversary, asserts the special entitlement of all First Nations. If Australians vote No, we will appear to outside observers as racist, in the sense of denying to an ethnic minority an opportunity for advancement to which they are entitled.

The bogans of the world … ?

You see here’s what’s really eating me right now, but also all of us, whether we realise it. In our Aussie bubble here on Grand Final Day (look at that! I even mentioned it!), we can assure each other across our party lines, across our conflicting stances on the Voice, on whatever grounds, that “we are not racist”. But if we the (97% whitefella) voters of Australia collectively vote down the Voice to Parliament, which the overwhelming weight of Constitutional expertise says is good for us all (not only the Indigenous themselves), then like it or not, personally deserve it or not, we will all wear the “racist” tag as we face the watching world.