When Turnbull shut down the idea of a voice to parliament, he also damaged any hope of an alternative.
In a joint statement with Brandis and Scullion, Turnbull argued that an Indigenous voice to parliament goes against the foundations on which Australia was founded on – one person one vote.
In doing so, he ignored the obvious reality that australia was very much not founded on this ideal. Aboriginal people were denied voting rights when the constitution was written. If Australia had been founded on principles of justice and equality for all, then we probably wouldn’t need to be having conversations about Aboriginal recognition.
It is that history of oppression, denial of rights, and exploitation of Aboriginal bodies, labour, and lands, that has led us to where we are now, and why there is a need to look at ways we can raise the status of Indigenous peoples and ensure our voices are heard on issues that affect us.
By denying that history and perpetuating a myth of Australia being founded on principles of equality, Turnbull has undermined the need for these processes, whether it be constitutional change or a treaty. Whatever alternative is put forward now has to deal with the added burden of those who think that everyone in Australia is now, and always been, treated equally.
No one worth listening to would ever suggest that Indigenous people weren’t here first, so altering the constitution to reflect that seems about as meaningful as changing it to point out that water is wet. But even that simple change would be impossible to pass in a referendum if Turnbull continues to dismiss Indigenous voices and undermine the need for change.
By suggesting that the voice to parliament model was ‘radical’, undemocratic, and effectively a power grab, he has framed Indigenous aspirations as greedy and unrealistic, rather than as the reasoned and considered compromise that it was. The follow on affect from the wilful misrepresentation of Indigenous capabilities and the intellectual dishonesty in the reasons justifying it will adversely impact any process that goes forward from here.
Not only will it give additional ammunition to the many conservatives who are poised to shoot down any attempts at negotiation or compromise, it also destroyed any sense of trust or goodwill on the part of those Indigenous people who will be expected to do the bulk of the work when it comes to drafting, consulting, and convincing other Indigenous people to come to the table.
It may be that this was Turnbull’s way of ending the political push for Indigenous recognition. So many years and so many millions of dollars wasted, rather than admitting that he can’t win over the ultra-right factions of his own party to get behind it. Perhaps it is easier to hang Indigenous people out to dry and blame his failures on us.
If his plan was to put a referendum in the too hard basket in order to pursue a Makarratta or Treaty/treaties instead – which I think many Indigenous people would prefer anyway – he just made the job of getting one all the harder to achieve.
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