X Close

How liberals betrayed indigenous Australia The referendum has been hijacked by narcissistic activists

(James Elsby/Getty Images)

(James Elsby/Getty Images)


October 14, 2023   7 mins

On election night two years ago, at a celebration packed with ecstatic Labor Party faithful, an emotional Anthony Albanese rose for his victory speech. “I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet,” he said. “And on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.”

The statement’s first leg, the acknowledgement of country, has become a ritualised opening of proceedings; meaningful on occasions such as this one was, self-congratulatory tokenism when, say, four white dudes on Zoom are about to haggle over property leases.

The second leg, however, the wholehearted commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, made a number of us true believers quietly wince. First because the outer-suburban punters who swing elections in Australia, and had just ended nine years of conservative rule, were given an immediate cue to tune out. Second, because Albo’s vow trailed danger in its wake. He had forgotten the golden rule of politics: never promise that which is not in your power to deliver.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a moving declaration forged by more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in Central Australia, at the foot of the mighty rock, in May 2017. At its centre is a call for constitutional recognition in the form of an indigenous Voice to parliament, an advisory body similar to those that successfully advocate for the Sami people in Scandinavian countries. It is a proposed tweaking of process in the hope of doing better on the substance of tackling entrenched disadvantage in indigenous communities.

True to his word, Albanese made the Voice a first-term priority, such that on Saturday, Australians will vote “Yes” or “No” in a referendum on the proposed constitutional amendment. If the polls are correct, a reform Albanese touts as a “generous” offer for indigenous Australia will fail. (When has the assurance, “this is a very generous offer”, ever sealed a deal?)

For months, activists have warned that a No victory will be Australia’s “Brexit moment”, a warning that inadvertently reveals their elitism. To be invested in the nation’s global reputation makes you by definition a cosmopolitan “anywhere”, and as with Brexit, it’s the reflexively patriotic “somewheres” who need to be convinced the Voice is in the national interest and by extension in theirs.

That task was always going to be tough because the electoral hurdle is steep — only eight of 44 referendums have passed since federation in 1901 — and voters are innately conservative about fiddling with Australia’s constitution. Plus, past referendums tell us that failure is all but guaranteed when the proposal does not enjoy bi-partisan support, which is the case here. Which was always going to be the case here. The leader of Australia’s Opposition Liberal party, Peter Dutton, has his default setting at total war. His one job, executed superbly, was to sow fear and doubt.

Whatever happens today, we’ll look back on the referendum debate as another dreary episode in an age of political polarisation and media fragmentation. It starred a Trumpian-influenced Right, a take-no-hostages Left, and a progressive centre that struggles to win an argument, the muscle weakened from disuse by the inhibiting impact of identity politics and “no-debate” wokeism.

There’s a Yes poster on display on my balcony, courtesy of my teenage daughter. I’ll likewise be voting Yes tomorrow, persuaded the case for outweighs the most legitimate of the arguments against. The poster reads as follows:

Say Yes!
Recognition
Listening
Better Results

Presumably, the word association is a wink to a specific enlightened audience assumed capable of joining the dots to a coherent argument. “Better results” — for whom, exactly?  And for crying out loud why “Say Yes!” rather than “Vote Yes!”? Unless your priority is policing speech rather than getting a referendum over the line.

By contrast, the slogan of the opposing camp — “If you don’t know, vote No”— is brilliantly capacious. A straightforward reading recalls the No case’s early critique that the Prime Minister was treating the public “like mugs” for failing to provide details on how the Voice would work. But the phrase can accommodate myriad other doubts, from fears about unforeseen legal implications, or new layers of bureaucracy, to cynicism that the Voice will produce better outcomes for indigenous Australians.

Reportedly, the most persuasive argument for No is that the Voice will entrench division and “re-racialise” the country. There is, perhaps, a sliver of principle here: prominent indigenous campaigners for No claim that the Voice will be hijacked by “Canberra elites” to the detriment of First Nations elders on traditional lands. Yet to many, the argument is a dog whistle that ignores the fact that — from incarceration rates to life expectancy — Australia is already “racially” divided now and will likely remain so without a circuit breaker.

The argument is also booby-trapped, demanding of Yes advocates the humiliating self-restraint not to take the bait and accuse their opponents of racism, not to further alienate the people they need to convince by insinuating, à la Hillary Clinton, that they’re a “basket of deplorables”. The distinguished Yes advocate, indigenous leader Marcia Langton, was engulfed in a firestorm of criticism last month for claiming many of the No camp’s arguments were rooted in “base racism”.

Yet it should not have been Langton’s responsibility to stay on message. Arguably, the one voice we needed to hear above all others was that of the person staking his reputation on the referendum: the prime minister. But Albanese essentially outsourced the campaign to an amorphous outfit called “Yes23”, and to indigenous leaders, gaining moral legitimacy but losing an aura of control that’s especially necessary when trying to reassure voters that if the Voice calls for, say, reparations, the government will say no.

Meanwhile, No bolstered its case by being headlined by three powerful indigenous figures. The three have very different motivations for opposing the Voice and speak to different groups in Australia. The first, senator Lidia Thorpe, spoke for the “Progressive No” blak sovereign movement that regards the Voice, in the absence of a formal treaty, as a fatal concession to whitefella law. While the progressive No vote is likely negligible, the fact of its existence reinforced the perception — the accuracy of which is contestible — that the indigenous community is itself ambivalent about the reform. And the existence of Progressive No was constantly reinforced in Thorpe’s volatile persona; in one of several stunts she threw herself on the ground at Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade to protest the presence of a police float.

The conservative Noes comprise Warren Mundine, an intriguing veteran of party politics — he’s operated at high levels in both major parties — and who has also backed a treaty. But the rock star is Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, in her own provocative description, “a Warlpiri-Celtic woman”. A conservative senator from the Northern Territory, Price’s blunt talk and counter-cultural appeal has seen her touted as a future prime minister. During a public address last month, Price said that on the whole European settlement was a good thing because now her people had running water. She denied there were any ongoing impacts from colonisation on indigenous Australians, including inter-generational trauma.

While such sentiments are clearly a-historical — how could there not be lingering trauma from the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families, an assimilationist state policy that only stopped in the Seventies? — they drew attention to the Left’s taboo on questioning any aspect of the dominant narrative about the indigenous underclass, and crucially, gave the public permission to doubt. Or, if you prefer, she offered absolution for white guilt. How to solve a problem like Price? Dismiss her as an Aunty Tom — and then in the same breath lament the unleashing of racist tropes?

What’s frustrating is that the arguments in favour of the Voice are inherently mainstream, even conservative — but the Yes camp has failed to hammer them home. The indigenous elders most prominently associated with the Voice have long rejected the politics of victimhood and noble savage myths about traditional culture pre-colonisation. Langton, who I mentioned earlier, has criticised bureaucratic squeamishness about tackling gendered violence in remote communities. Noel Pearson, leader of the far-north community at Cape York and another of the Voice’s architects, is a contentious figure within indigenous politics for his “responsibility agenda”. “By having a voice, we will be responsible for closing the gap, we will be as responsible as the government,” he says.

Another central argument for the Voice is economic efficiency, an imperative that chimes with middle Australia. The billions spent on indigenous advancement have only modestly improved lives partly because aloof bureaucracies are making the decisions rather than indigenous people themselves.

But Yes has failed to capitalise on this argument. There was no serious effort to tether the promise of “better outcomes” to concrete examples of where outcomes would have been better had the appeals of indigenous communities prevailed. Last year, a spike in violent crime in Alice Springs was traced to the lifting of alcohol bans; Aboriginal leaders had called in vain for the bans to continue. This case study featured momentarily in arguments for the Voice, but was seldom revived as a talking point thereafter.

Instead, Yes gave us abstract slogans, a cacophony of voices, and even a song, John Farnham’s Eighties hit “You’re the Voice”, which featured in an ad alongside footage of pivotal moments in national leadership as witnessed in the lounge room of a typical Aussie family through the generations. It was intended to rouse the already converted into evangelical fervour — nostalgic Gen X’ers like me dutifully blubbered — but talkback callers expressed their displeasure at the soundtrack to their youth enlisted in the service of a partisan cause.

The more Yes turned up the volume — piping the message through loudspeakers  at the discount chain Big W — the more ordinary Australians thought, in the vernacular, yeah-nah. The Yes campaign was so tone-deaf it partnered with Australian airline Qantas, which unveiled a new fleet of passenger planes carrying a Yes23 logo just weeks before a court ruled it had illegally sacked 1,700 ground staff. If the national carrier, and its grotesquely over-renumerated former chief executive, Alan Joyce, represented anything in the public consciousness, it’s the diminution of the national interest as a guiding principle in public life.

Meanwhile, the Victorian Trades Hall Council’s union volunteers were explicitly instructed to convince voters that the anti-Voice movement is punching down on indigenous voters, and “seeking to divide the working class”. The working class, it seems, is united enough: a poll in August showed that while support for the constitutional amendment is at 54% among university-educated Australians, those without a degree are 61% against, and tradies are 65% against.

Bigotry, and unconscious bias, may well be more prevalent than I’d like to believe. But pollster Kos Samaras, whose RedBridge Group does not advise either camp, said in an interview that amid a cost-of-living crisis “a lot of people are voting No because they feel like the PM is not paying attention to them economically”. Still, it remains true that more than 60% of Australians supported the Voice at the start of the year, and most would still support a limited constitutional amendment recognising First Nations peoples.

When, two weeks out from D-day, the Yes campaign’s UK launch featured a drag queen performing “You’re the Voice”, the narcissism and self-absorption of Australia’s activist class seemed complete. As the final week kicked off, historians exhorted the public to align with The Right Side of History. “Come Sunday,” Niki Savva moralised in an 11th-hour column in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, “we will either see ourselves as measured, generous people, ready to set aside the daily woes of our lives
 to consider the place and state of Indigenous Australians
 or as a frightened, resentful people unable or unwilling to see through the scares and the lies, prepared to use the ballot box to punish the government and in the process punish Indigenous people trapped in cycles of poverty and abuse.”

Yet as a practical necessity, should the Voice fail the blame must rest with the Albanese Government because only they can make restitution. Indigenous people will only remain “trapped in cycles of poverty and abuse” if we let our leaders off the hook from now on, wallowing in defeat, reflecting on nothing but our own righteousness, of which we need no convincing.


Julie Szego is a former columnist at The Age.

JulieSzego

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

99 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago

It wasn’t hijacked by narcissistic activists, it was designed by them.

Peter D
Peter D
8 months ago

It left out the fact that the Uluru Statement also includes treaty and reparations. So lets punish future generations for eternity for the sins of the past. Maybe we should charge the aboriginals with cultural appropriation for the use of our cars, homes with running water and aircon, not to mention food that only needs to be paid for rather than hunted.
People that pursue the notion that colonialism was 100% bad don’t get that there are trade offs just like everything has trade offs. It is a way to bully and divide people. The fact that some are indigenous because they have live in the area for a thousand years and others who have live in their area for much longer yet are not considered indigenous, leads me to believe that the concept of being indigenous is nothing but mobbing.

Chuck de Batz
Chuck de Batz
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter D

The UluáčŸu Statement does not include reparations.

This is the text of the full statement:
https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/sites/default/files/2017-05/Uluru_Statement_From_The_Heart_0.PDF

Chuck de Batz
Chuck de Batz
8 months ago
Reply to  Chuck de Batz

the italics in the text denote quotations

Peter D
Peter D
8 months ago
Reply to  Chuck de Batz

Oh Chuck, I’m sorry, but this is not the Uluru Statement. It is 26 pages long.
This is from the ABC, who have supported The Voice from the beginning. While the ABC is the national broadcaster, it is very left wing. So not unlike the BBC.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-08-11/fact-check-uluru-statement-one-page-26/102714792
Of course, you like the referendum council so how about this. You can read about treaty and reparations here. Pages 16-32 are probably the best place to start.
https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/sites/default/files/report_attachments/Referendum_Council_Final_Report.pdf

Peter D
Peter D
8 months ago
Reply to  Chuck de Batz

Oh yeah, the referendum failed. The reasons are many and I am sure that most people will not get this. We will get slagged off as racist, but I am preparing for the hate to begin.
The government should have never asked us for a blank cheque. They basically came to ask us for a yes without even setting out what we were saying yes to. This is unforgivable and no politician should ever do this again.

Martin M
Martin M
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter D

Anybody aggrieved by the result should blame Albanese, because it was his fault. It was always going to be a big ask without bipartisan support, but if he’d put forward a well thought out proposal and supported it with an excellent campaign, he was half a chance. However, he fell well short on both of those.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
8 months ago

‘“I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet,” ‘

That is a phrase which should be used at the start of every council meeting in Britain.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
8 months ago
Reply to  Steven Carr

Recently Douglas Murray opened his speech at a conference in central London by acknowledging the Duke of Westminster.

Chipoko
Chipoko
8 months ago
Reply to  Steven Carr

Well said!

Carmel Shortall
Carmel Shortall
8 months ago
Reply to  Steven Carr

I would particularly like to hear it used in Northern Ireland…

Max Price
Max Price
8 months ago

Whilst admittedly a pretty good analysis of the failings of the Yes campaign the author seems to be arguing that the Yes camp should have been better at duping the public. The fact is that the Australian people were never going to vote through this amendment and all that it implies about co-governance. The Yes camp instinctively knew this and tried to get it by on the vibe. It’s staggering how stupid they think we are.
As to this being our “Brexit moment” that is yet to be seen. I hope I’m wrong but I can foresee the progressive side of politics becoming really ugly after the election.

Margaret Ford
Margaret Ford
8 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

I think calling it a Brexit moment is dumb relativism. It’s worth noting that no one intending to vote NO put up signs on their front fence, for fear of being called racist or stupid


David McKee
David McKee
8 months ago
Reply to  Margaret Ford

In fact, comparing it to Brexit is precisely right. There was the same soft intimidation of Leave voters as there was for No voters.

Am I right in thinking the Yes campaign was one of shrill self-righteousness?

Martin M
Martin M
8 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Yes, “shrill self-righteousness” pretty much sums it up.

Simon
Simon
8 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

Yes, this was a very weak piece and not up to Unheard’s standards. It completely elides the constitutional significance of the proposed, and now defeated amendment, which would have created a fourth arm of national government coextensive with the legislature, executive, and judicature. She repeats the falsehood that the body was ‘advisory’ when the amendment specifically says the Voice can make representations’ to the parliament and executive.
More importantly, the Voice was the first of three planned changes. The second was a so called Makarata commission (not a dance, the word means ‘retribution’) that would oversee ‘truth telling’, reparations and treaty making the end goal of which was an as yet unspecified form of co-sovereignty.
Little wonder the population voted 60/40 against.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago
Reply to  Simon

What is the difference between an advisory body and a body which makes representations? Neither has any legislative, judicial or executive power.
Three changes are indeed proposed. Saturday’s referendum was about the first, only.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
8 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

“I can foresee the progressive side of politics becoming really ugly after the election.”
It already is. Within the last week it has added antisemitism to its freight of misogyny, homophobia, racism and sadistic paedophilia.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Yes, I’ve been rather busy.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

weird

JJ Barnett
JJ Barnett
8 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Yes, and now the activists are already seeding the narrative they lost because of “disinformation and misinformation” propagated by the ‘No’ side, and naturally the government is using this wind to push ahead with their Orwellian bill to censor speech.

It’s a trap.

Vote for the lunacy we offer you!
…but even if you don’t, we’ll use your refusal as a platform for the necessity of installing — more government, more scrutiny-free bureaucracy, and more totalitarian controls — anyway.

AC Harper
AC Harper
8 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

For many activists (for many causes) the ‘vibe’ dominates. Every refusal of others to fall in with the ‘vibe’ is felt as a personal attack.
And then we get different sets of activists and their operatic arguments promoting their ‘vibe’ against another production’s ‘vibe’. The narcissism of small differences is particularly bitter.
It’s the politics of the schoolyard but played by adults.

AC Harper
AC Harper
8 months ago

The referendum has been hijacked by narcissistic activists

Surprise!
I realise the sub-head may not be the author’s choice but it highlights a particular problem with politics in the Western (including Australia and New Zealand) world. Politics used to be about striking a pragmatic compromise to get things done – it has been subverted by ‘activists’ who are so invested in their opinions that the end justifies any means.

Simon
Simon
8 months ago

It’s hard to know where to begin in a response to this article, so typical of bien pensant Australians.

Australian might have been 60% in favour of the Voice eight months ago but they have just voted 60/40 against it this Saturday. Why the change in sentiment?

The Government’s plan, which it described as ‘modest’ and ‘respectful’, would have seen the establishment of a fourth arm of government in Australia, one that would be coextensive with the legislature, executive, and judicature. This Voice would require its own assembly and staff to oversee government and executive so that it could make “representations” to the executive and parliament on proposed laws. (The word ‘advice’ is not used in the referendum proposition.)

Nowhere did the government set out how this Voice assembly would be constituted (appointment or election? No answer)where it wound reside or how it would be resourced.

The ‘electorate’ would be those identifying as Aboriginal —persons who currently amount to about 3.5% of the population. Those individuals were being given superior political rights to all other Australian’s permanently. Australians were faced with voting to end equal citizenship, or voting No to the Voice.

It was a no brainer.

Graham Bennett
Graham Bennett
8 months ago

Unfortunately, the fact the No vote won so easily is because of the Left’s anti-Midas touch when it comes to this kind of thing. Normal, everyday, ‘somewhere’ Australians have had a gut full of them and their arrogance. The article quoted from ‘The Age’ at the end of this piece sums it up perfectly. It’s just a softer way of saying that most Australians are ‘a bunch of deplorables’, to coin a phrase. People are sick of being lectured at. We don’t look up to such people as our natural moral leaders, as much as they fool thensleves in to thinking they do. We in fact despise them! Will they learn anything from this referendum campaign? I doubt it. They’ve already shifted their sights to Hamas and the dreary ‘Palestinian cause’, as sure as night turned to day, lecturing us all over again.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
8 months ago

Julie, after your fracas with The Age, I was curious about which way your article was going to dress: a shot at liberals, or at the Liberals? Turns out it was a bit of both.
You pop Dutton for being a wrecker and seem bemused that he hasn’t done his righteous duty by supporting your own point of view, when it could just be that he represents innately conservative Australia and simply agrees with many Australians that the voice is a dumb idea. Points off for the lazy deployment the “dog whistle” dog whistle and the failure to meander anywhere near the non sequitur on steroids that the voice will fix indigenous disadvantage. Points on for popping Savva and her ilk; for slapping “generous offers”; for not saying we should be ashamed of ourselves; for not saying we will stand condemned in the court of international opinion or in the scold-eyes of the opinionistas at the Guardian or NY Times; and for identifying the true culprit.
Albanese claims with Kennedy chutzpah that he is having a referendum, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. This is nonsense. Albanese saw support for the voice and recognition at 70% and thought it was all about the voice, when in fact it was mostly about recognition. Or maybe the 70% prompted him to over-reach. Either way he thought YES would be a doddle and he wouldn’t have to do much to land “on the right side of history” and at the same time he could splinter the conservatives. So Albanese has tried to smuggle the voice through under cover of recognition, while doing as little of the difficult ground work as possible as he turned the referendum process into an election campaign with all its obfuscations, sophistry, pandering, cajolery, insults, barracking and bull twang.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

“splinter the conservatives” – correct.
They saw it as a wedge issue to cement their political power.
Without a care in the world about how destructive and divisive it would be.

David Mayes
David Mayes
8 months ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

As a resident in one of Australia’s wealthiest inner city areas Julie all but admits being compelled against her instincts by the social convention of her demographic / ideological tribe to vote Yes.
The referendum result has revealed the unsettling truth that five decades of indigenous self-determination policy have failed. That policy, initiated by the socialist Whitlam government, produced our country’s current weird racialised polarisation. In remote regional Australia it fostered the archipelago of hundreds of racially segregated tiny indigenous settlements (the Homelands) which by dint of being cut off from mainstream society condemn around 20% of Australia’s indigenous people to perpetual disadvantage. A disadvantage government ritually reports in a document known as “Closing the Gap”. This is complimented in the wealthy metropolitan centres by the strange quasi-religious national liberation cult of First Nations complete with that obligatory prayer to the indigenous people before any social gathering. 
But the real liberation for indigenous people has now come with the No result. It opens a political pathway led by Jacinta Price and others for Australia to reverse to a policy of integration. This would hopefully phase out the segregated remote settlements and thereby actually close the Gap and deflate the bubble of Aboriginal national liberation (modelled on other “struggles” like the Palestinian cause) before it becomes truly toxic. Labor could have and should have taken this pathway, but it is the conservative Liberal/National Party that have now grasped the batten.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
8 months ago
Reply to  David Mayes

Very true, David. Labor owns and milks the grievance industries and relies on continuous disadvantage, but because they got careless & cocky (again), they have given the Coalition a chance to take the high ground.
Oh, and JNP,s comment that colonisation was a good thing knocked to YES camp for six.

Last edited 8 months ago by Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
8 months ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

On cue the pearl-clutching New York Times slapped us for “crushing Indigenous dreams.”

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

This is how it’s been reported in the UK too. I was even taken to task in the pub by a friend who thought Australia had just denied aboriginals the right to vote. In most of Australia after federation in 1901, aboriginal women had the vote before any women had the vote in national elections in Europe or America. The exceptions were WA and Qld where there were still significant numbers of remote semi-nomadic groups and the terms of federation automatically granted the right to anyone who already had the vote in those states.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
8 months ago

Well done Unherd. Funniest article I have read this year.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
8 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Yes, what can you do but laugh at things like “Marcia Langton, was engulfed in a firestorm of criticism last month for claiming many of the No camp’s arguments were rooted in “base racism”. Yet it should not have been Langton’s responsibility to stay on message.” Of course a leader of the Yes campaign shouldn’t be expected to stay on message – she was itching to call the No arguments ‘racist or stupid’ and she did.

And this “Another central argument for the Voice is economic efficiency, an imperative that chimes with middle Australia.” Clearly the author never heard of ATSIC – a previous version of The Voice, which was hardly known for the efficiency of its operations.

The author can’t understand why the Yes case started out with majority support, but then lost it as the ideas were teased out. She mentions a pollster, the same one who said that people should remember, after this was over, that nearly everyone polled expressed support for Aborigines, they wanted better things for Aboriginal people, they just didn’t agree with the proposal.

If Albanese really had the principles he claims, he would bring in The Voice. It would be quite reasonable of him to say that according to the polls, people didn’t mind a Voice, they just didn’t want it embedded in the Constitution. The Voice always had to be legislated, and it still can be, just as intended, but not cemented into the Constitution. That way we avoid having a ‘them & us’ legal basis for the country.

If Unherd has asked Chat GPT to write an article about the referendum in the style of an inner-city, well-educated, well-off, ‘elite’ commentator, this is the article they would have got.

Last edited 8 months ago by Russell Hamilton
Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago

Marcia Langton said that SOME of the No arguments were stupid and racist, and SOME of them were.
A lot of people on here are bagging the Yes arguments, as they are fully entitled to do; I won’t abuse them for doing so.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

Always a great idea to introduce “stupid and racist” to a debate, knowing that the “SOME” part is destined to be inaudible.
Maybe if she’d stuck to explaining why Yes was so great that it justified changing the constitution, she wouldn’t have needed to denigrate the No case.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago

She didn’t introduce the stupid and racist stuff, it was already there. You might argue that tactically she should have ignored it, but she was probably rather annoyed by it. Again, there’s no shortage of people here calling out the Left for what they perceive as its moral failings.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

What were the arguments that you considered stupid and racist?

Geoff W
Geoff W
8 months ago

For example: Peter Dutton saying that not counting crosses as “No” votes was Labor rigging the election, when in fact – as the Electoral Commission politely pointed out – it was established practice, enshrined in law.
People online saying that if Yes won, white people would have their houses confiscated.

Martin M
Martin M
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

I for my part can’t figure out why telling people that they were “stupid and racist” didn’t win them over to her cause.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago

I still genuinely don’t know what this referendum is about. If it’s simply to give the aboriginals a voice to parliament, why does that need a treaty amendment?
Surely the government could just set up an advisory council (maybe voted for by aboriginals) and delegate to give them responsibility for affairs that exclusively affect aboriginals?

Peter D
Peter D
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It is a great deal more than just that. Also, by writing it into the constitution, it will take another referendum to remove if it is not fulfilling its obligations. On top of this, it can proceed with legal action in the high court. Add to this Makaratha, treaty and truth. The UluáčŸu statement is about reparations. It is there in black and white. Many Aboriginals have expressed this sentiment multiple times.
Good Aboriginals I know do not want this. They are Australians like everyone else. They do not take advantage of all the extras that they can get. They are happy and content. Identity politics is doing more harm than good

Dulle Griet
Dulle Griet
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter D

I’m anti-woke and anti-CRT, and I agree with you about identity politics, but the rest of that last paragraph sounds like something a nineteenth-century apologist for slavery would say.

Last edited 8 months ago by Dulle Griet
Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago
Reply to  Dulle Griet

I’m sure that the “[g]ood Aboriginals” whom the exquisitely named Peter D knows are grateful for his approval.

Peter D
Peter D
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

I don’t know about grateful, but to be honest, they are just normal people like the rest of us. I see a divide between elites and plebs to be greater than any idiotic thing like race. People saw through the BS and voted no

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Or perhaps just listen to the disproportionate number of aboriginals already in parliament? Who, surprisingly to the commentators it seems, are individuals with differing views.

Last edited 8 months ago by nadnadnerb
Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I don’t know where you are, but everybody living in Australia had every chance to find out what the referendum was about, if only because the Electoral Commission sent a booklet to every household which explained not only the voting procedure, but also the wording of the actual question, and also gave several pages of arguments for and against written by both the Yes and the No cases.

philip kern
philip kern
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

The one sent to my house omitted nearly any information that might have moved me from one side to the other. The ‘blank cheque’ analogy has some validity–even if that wasn’t the main determinant.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago

Ya. This is pretty cringeworthy stuff. On the one hand she talks about inter-generational trauma – whatever that means – and on the other she says indigenous elders associated with the Voice have long rejected the politics of victimhood.

If it’s just some benign advisory arrangement, I don’t see how the Voice will improve the lives of anyone. What’s really the point then?

I’ll agree with one thing though. The narcissism and self-absorption of Australia’s activist class isn’t winning over voters. People are fed up with being told how to think, rather than persuaded with strong arguments.

Terry Raby
Terry Raby
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

and being given moral advice by virtue signalling corporations is way way out of line.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
8 months ago

Having seen the toxic mix of political ideology and race relations in the US on both sides, deeply and advisedly, the last thing we need is more of the same anywhere else. But that’s exactly what we’ve been buying into. Voters have the horse sense to know that way lies just more catastrophe. Though I do note a real divide in Australia is between urban and rural, or as they used to say, “Sydney and the Bush.” A divide that tends to transcend colour.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago

True, but Australia is one of the most urbanised nations. The Bush doesn’t have the numbers to win on its own. That means a substantial number of urban residents voted No.

The area maps tend, as they did in Brexit, to obscure the fact that it’s a “popular” vote by state where total numbers count, not a constituency vote in Australian preferential style.

So a No vote in a mostly Yes privileged white enclave “safe seat” is worth same as No in the struggling outer suburbs.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
8 months ago

Quite so, Brendan. A friend also pointed out what I had not understood about this referendum, as highlighted by one if its founders, a constitutional lawyer of note, that it could well have made government unworkable. Aside from institutionalising a major racial divide.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
8 months ago

Will we ever see an opinion piece entitled “How Liberals Betrayed Indigenous Britain?”

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
8 months ago

I read an interesting sociology paper on the Aboriginals once. It was trying to explain why so many of them fail to hold down jobs even when the employer is forced to employ them. The paper authors claimed that Aborigines just don’t have any sense of time. If you try to arrange a meeting with one, or the start of the working day, then they just won’t turn up. Also they apparently have big problems with suddenly going AWOL to attend extended family funerals. They sounded extremely hard to employ even if the government makes you do it, so it seems unlikely more of a “voice” would change anything.

The fact that the only example the author can find is that white Australians should keep enforcing an alcohol ban on them is suggestive of the problem.

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
8 months ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

It is absurd to encourage people to stick to Stone Age cultures complete with tribal languages spoken by a few hundred people at most, using Stone Age vocabularies, while they don’t have to hunt/forage for food and water, and don’t have to fight other tribes for life’s basic necessities. Add to this unearned money and praise thrown at people, and they have no reason to get out of bed in the morning. You don’t have to be an Aborigine to escape into alcoholism.
Hundreds of tribe members attending events several times a month, at times more than once a week, for many hours each time, during working hours seems to be common across tribal cultures. I saw this in an African context while having Sudanese housemates.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago

The voting maps are interesting.
The strongest Yes votes in the whitest, most privileged areas.
if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, you can’t read the room.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago

True.
Another interesting factor is that many of the Yes-voting electorates are ones that the federal coalition lost in 2022, and needs to win back in order to form a government again.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

Also that areas with most Asian immigrants were either strongly No or evenly split.

philip kern
philip kern
8 months ago

I’ve been saying this for years: recent migrants from Asia or the middle east, many of whom experienced extraordinary trauma before coming here, will in no way identify with residents of the outback who were treated appallingly a couple of generations ago. Mass migration has consequences.

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
8 months ago

Essentially rich inner city lefties voted ‘yes’ and the rest of the country voted ‘no’. The response of rich inner city lefties so far has been to double down on their patronising insistence that the rest of us only voted no because we’re stupid/misinformed/racist/reactionary/heartless. Some of us certainly are some or all of those things. How many and to what extent is hard to say. But what exactly it is these rich inner city lefties think they’re going to achieve by continuing their tone deaf hectoring beyond this debate escapes me. It’s offensive, divisive, politically witless and immensely boring.
It’s hard not to conclude that a lot of it is really a compensatory projection of their own anxiety about racism. For all their rich inhabitants’ endless prattling about diversity and inclusion, the inner city electorates that voted ‘yes’ tend to be just about the whitest, most Eurocentric/monocultural remaining parts of the country. The farther out you move, into more and more pronounced ‘no’ territory, the more likely you are to encounter matter-of-factly multicultural communities, including many in rural areas where Indigenous and non-Indy Oz mucks along together just fine. The same wryly amusing observation applies to the professional/vocational cohorts who overwhelmingly live in those ‘yes’ electorates and who almost certainly voted overwhelmingly ‘yes’: our journalists, public intellectuals and commentators, political and policy wonks, academics, boardroom and executive classes. This lot tend to constitute, once again, some of the whitest/most Eurocentric workplaces still grimly holding out in Australia.
There’s been something almost magnificently perverse about the rest of us being relentlesly abused, belittled, derided and lectured for our ‘racism’…by a self-appointed little gang of monocultural paragons of the invading coloniser’s ‘western intellectual traditions’, whose own rarified lives seem to be governed by the last remaining strand of the old White Australia policy. Happily, now that our soft pap prog lefties have lost this latest contrived wokefight, they’ll quickly move onto the next shiny moral bauble to peck tediously at the rest of us about.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago
Reply to  Jack Robertson

I’m a rich inner-city (well, fairly close-in) Lefty, but I doubt that I and my patronising, hectoring, prattling, perverse and tedious comrades make up 40% of the voting population.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

Probably about 15%, although you could be forgiven to think they were a lot more by the hegemony they enjoy over public discourse in Australia.

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

Well, it’d be interesting and I reckon highly apposite to crunch some economic numbers in detail, Geoff. The average income is around $70K, and if you factor in ‘socioeconomic participation’ factors – like nicely-growing super, home ownership and ready access to credit – I’d be willing to bet that the 60/40-ish Yes/No split falls pretty accurately in line with the have/have not divide that is increasingly blighting this great ‘egalitarian’ land of the ‘fair go’. Geographically, with the exception I think of the Jervis Bay area, the country outside those inner(ish) city areas the rejected The Voice. These areas collectively represent the ‘have’ side of Australia’s amenity divide, too. It’s surely pretty obvious that the overlap of ‘Yes’ inclination with well-serviced, physically desirable and lifestyle-amenable living locales applies. If you don’t spend your daily life navigating relatively unattractive employment prospects, less public transport, limited health and education resources, crumbling civic infrastructure and crowded public spaces, I suppose you have more headspace to think about life’s esoteric niceties.
The real point I’d make is that…well, if you’re rich you’re not really a ‘Lefty’ at all, are you. Not anymore. The idea that ‘progressive’ social issues that cost a voter nothing at all financially can be meaningful markers of an Australian’s material politics is one that’s remained stubornly unexamined here since, probably, Whitlam…but it’s fast running out of credibility. We like to pretend there’s no ‘class divide’ in Australia but who are we kidding, really? Albo makes a big song and dance about The Voice while his ‘labor’ party proceeds cheerfully with bipartisan top tranche tax cuts, refuses to touch the joint’s ruinously inequitable asset-accumulation tax settings, and snuggles ever-deeper into bed with the kind of get-rich-qwik opportunist global capital that’s apparently intent on transforming us into a regional branch office of the dynamic, increasingly-prosperous Indian, Chinese and SEA middle class service economy. Our kids will never own their own homes, our productive domestic economy is being denuded, and when the world finally stops buying our cheap coal, gas and iron ore, all the ‘Lefty’ posturing over contrived ‘progressive ishoos’ like The Voice ain’t gunna paper over the ruinous economic divide we’ve collectively engineered. Like that electoral map of Yes/No votes, those few lucky enough to be on the right side of it will be citadeled in their neo-feudal castles in the inner cities, surrounded by cranky broke peasants with not much left to lose. The color of their skin, along with all other identity politics markers (so beloved of contemporary ‘Lefties’)…well, it won’t matter one bit. Chrs.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Jack Robertson

Jervis Bay and the rest of the coast south of there is essentially a retirement home for Canberra.

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
8 months ago

Quite. It’s also home to a particularly activist Indy Oz crew…if you drill down into the Voice working party’s mob consultation session in ACT (via that ‘Document 14’ of the background material behind the Statement from the Heart), the Jervic Bay contingent was quite seperatist from even the other ACT reps.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  Jack Robertson

You can’t move down there early retirement public servants on defined benefit pensions. They pretty much kill any industry proposal for the area so the only opportunities for the kids is mobility scooter mechanic with a sideline in organic coffee.

Geoff W
Geoff W
8 months ago
Reply to  Jack Robertson

I won’t answer in detail, because at this point you’re probably not very interested (this article disappeared from my screen for a couple of days for some reason), but…
Yes, what we really need are proper data. My basic point is that “rich” people of whatever political inclinations don’t make up 40% of the population; the Yes voters were a more complex cohort than that. On no objective basis whatever, I’d guess that about 80% of well-off Lefties like me voted Yes, but other well-off inner-city dwellers would have voted No, and the electoral maps shouldn’t blind us to the fact that there were Yes voters all over the country, even though they were clearly in the minority in a lot of places.

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff W

Yes, fair points and noted. We tend to avoid detailed, overt, isolated economic analysis of indivdual wealth and voting patterns. One of the Australian wealthy class’s less edifying social/civic characteristics is its throughly disingenuous determination to play poor.There are vast numbers of very rich Australians who self-identify as ‘battlers’. The press, many of whom are part of this cohort, play a key role of this cynically-projected wilful delusion, and many of our long-established, unexamined anbd untochably bipartisan fiscal and tax policy settings are a ruinous manifestation of it.
One recalls that FIFO ‘tradie’ whining to ALP leader Bill Shorten during the 2019 election capaign, about how his poor FIFO ‘tradie’ mate, ‘struggling’ on ‘only’ $200K a year, was going to be hit hard by the ALP’s then-proposed asset tax changes. More’s the point, one remembers – gagging – how Shorten fell over himself to sympathetise and equivocate. A ‘labour’ leader! He should have told the greedy economic-Tory pr*ck to tell his late to GFH. I think that probably cost Shorten the elections, rather than the policy package itself or the Murdoch scare-mongering about it. Voters just won’t trust any lefty politician spruiking a progressive/fairness reform packjage if they suspect that they don’t truly believe in it themselves.
Chrs Geoff, if you see this reply.

Duane M
Duane M
8 months ago
Reply to  Jack Robertson

I’m happy to see that identity politics in Australia are so similar to those in America. Happy, that is, in the sense that misery loves company.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 months ago

I’m reading now after the vote. As a Canadian, I say it’s a good thing. Our capitulation to aboriginal demands is crippling our resource economy with zero benefit to the First Nations.

Duane M
Duane M
8 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Yes, and that is why corporations are so willing to oblige the progressive demand for Diversity-Equity-Inclusion officers. Adding a few bureaucrats costs only a little; the corporate profit margin remains protected. For the actual descendants of the aborigines, a scattering of crumbs. Maybe a handful will get hired, and those will quickly adapt to the corporate mindset.
In short, the left progressive movement is a soft pillow for corporate capitalism. ‘Hit me again’, says the Boss. ‘It makes me laugh and feel giddy.’

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
8 months ago

“we will either see ourselves as measured, generous people, ready to set aside the daily woes of our lives
 to consider the place and state of Indigenous Australians
 or as a frightened, resentful people unable or unwilling to see through the scares and the lies, prepared to use the ballot box to punish the government and in the process punish Indigenous people trapped in cycles of poverty and abuse.”
This sort of language – an insult, not an argument – illustrates why the luxury belief elites always lose at the ballot box.

philip kern
philip kern
8 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Exactly right. I suspect many who wrote no were originally thinking from the centre but couldn’t abide those who told them they were racist if they didn’t support the prevailing wisdom. If one labels their opposition with a negative epithet enough times, some will start to wear it as a badge of honour.
At my inner-west of Sydney polling station, I saw 6 people handing out instructions on the yes side, but nobody had the courage to represent the no side.

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
8 months ago

If the indigenous are really so upset with being brought into civilisation, surely we could give them an island somewhere with no electricity, running water or communications and let them return to their traditional way of life.

Chuck de Batz
Chuck de Batz
8 months ago
Reply to  Bryan Dale

g

Last edited 8 months ago by Chuck de Batz
Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
8 months ago

Oh well. Australians might have taken a stand, but Canada will surrender as Canada always does. We are quickly ceding all our institutions to the Indians — stone age culture is the only way forward.

Tharmananthar Shankaradhas
Tharmananthar Shankaradhas
8 months ago

Reliance on the state to Improve our lot breeds dependency. Best to encourage local communities find ways to improve their well being with their own efforts. That way any gains they make will endure.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago

This is what Jacinta Nimpinjinpa Price advocates, and she is hated by the aboriginal welfare industrial complex for it.

Bruce Horton
Bruce Horton
8 months ago

True for all aboriginal comunities, they cannot be independent and at the same time be dependent on government funding for the majority and in some cases almost all of their finances. Some native groups in Canada are very successful because resource wealth or geographic location, i.e. reserve lands in high value urban and exurban areas. Others are miserable hell holes in remote areas where subsistance living was the norm even 100 years ago. No referendum will change that fact.

Last edited 8 months ago by Bruce Horton
Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
8 months ago

There is an upper limit beyond which average people with normal interests tune out politics. It is BLM and its variants in America, and it looks like Yes in the Antipodes.

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
8 months ago

Ignoring the Drag Queen, why should there even be a UK launch for an Australian political campaign?

Mark Duffett
Mark Duffett
8 months ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

Tens if not hundreds of thousands of expats.

Alex Cranberg
Alex Cranberg
8 months ago

As an American im not too familiar with this except to US native rights efforts. The inherent problem with the Voice is that it there is no one voice, nor should there be. Native individuals in modern society are just like everyone one else: varied and diverse. Any Voice would merely hijack other voices. It would only seem useful for liberal salve.

Ellie
Ellie
8 months ago

As a Pacific Islander who came here with my parents years ago, I love being told to shoulder the responsibility for past grievances and being expected to continue to appease people who I never had issues with until I started to be called racist.
10 years ago, I sat in a uni classroom, listening to one of the whitest girls I’ve seen lecture the room on how Aboriginal people needed more rights, benefits and freedoms. She was sitting in that room, debt free thanks to some sort of sponsorship through Abstudy because she was “Indigenous” and I was in debt with my uni degree. I was utterly disgusted that she was demanding even more while living a carefree elitist life in the city. I wondered if this was where all the benefits were being wasted–on people who would always just demand more rather than enacting real change.
And so, I voted no and this article has reaffirmed to me that I made the right decision.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago

I’ll take your Farnsey and raise you a Barnesy.

Neo-liberals’ bad taste seems to kill a lot of their efforts to win friends.

Like one of those stem-cell injecting celebrities who gives off a corpse smell.

Last edited 8 months ago by Dumetrius
Bernard Kelly
Bernard Kelly
8 months ago

As soon as saw that the author had previously written for The Age I knew what to expect, and my expectations were realised. So many blind spots in this article. The inner city elites, of which I presume the author is one, simply can’t accept that the Deplorables can see beyond the political rhetoric and lies. As for Nikki Savva, I wouldn’t take seriously anything she writes. She is perpetually angry and bitter.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
8 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Kelly

You might want to look at the article which Julie Szego published here in June this year.

Chuck de Batz
Chuck de Batz
4 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Kelly

Andrew Bolt used to write for The Age. Miranda Devine for the Herald.

Terry Raby
Terry Raby
8 months ago

A whole consitutionaly entrenched grifter industry of DEI activist bureacrats avoided.

V T C
V T C
8 months ago

Another chapter in the now familiar playbook. The political class presents a self-serving plan for the rest of us, dressed up in their chosen moral imperatives. If given the chance, the people reject it. The pundits are surprised. Voters must be dis/misinformed. Or perhaps they suffer from unconscious bias. But contrary to the author’s statement, the most persuasive argument was that “the Voice” would become a parliament within a parliament serving the interests of a narrow minority. Not democracy. This is readily apparent to anyone reading the actual text of the amendment.

Leigh Dixon
Leigh Dixon
8 months ago

Having lost, the Yes brigade is now calling for a “Truth telling” commission to regurgitate the causes of the failure to improve the standard of living for the Aboriginals that have chosen to remain tied to their “country” and traditional culture .

A more important Truth telling commission would be one into where has the tens of billions of dollars of Australian taxpayers money that has been allocated to the Aboriginal bureaucracy ended up?

Jodie Willett
Jodie Willett
8 months ago

“There was no serious effort to tether the promise of “better outcomes” to concrete examples of where outcomes would have been better had the appeals of indigenous communities prevailed.” This was the greatest failing. While I voted no on the principle of fairness (equality of political rights for all Australians regardless of ancestry) some real life scenarios where this mythical Voice may have brought tangible results may have swayed some. I believe the reluctance to use the example of alcohol fueled violence was an intentional shying away from highlighting any negative aspects of aboriginal culture. Price gets support because she does not shy away from such issues, and lays the responsibility with the indigenous to fix these issues, instead of blaming historical events. The real intergenerational trauma seems to be the adults exposing their children to the same violence and deprivation they have experienced. Only parents can stop this cycle by wanting better for their kids. And in this, they should be supported.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
8 months ago

“humiliating self-restraint not to take the bait and accuse their opponents of racism”
It’s “humiliating” to not make a knee-jerk false accusation of racism?
This entire piece is an exhaustive and realistic rundown of the kind of cheap, sensationalist, divisive, false, propagandistic and rhetorically incoherent tactics that drive EVERY leftist social engineering campaign. And yet the author still plans to vote yes. SMH.

Carmel Shortall
Carmel Shortall
8 months ago

A poll in August “showed that while support for the constitutional amendment is at 54% among university-educated Australians, those without a degree are 61% against…”

Am I missing something here or does that add up to 115%?

Jonathan Gibbs
Jonathan Gibbs
8 months ago

You’re missing something. 54% of the subset of Australians with a degree voted for. 61% of the subset of Australians without a degree votes against.

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
8 months ago

It seems that David Goodhart and Matt Goodwin may be pertinent in Australia and, also, given the recent election result, New Zealand.
Time for those who wish to rule us to reflect if they really represent majority opinion with their globalist, progressive groupthink.

Ted Miller
Ted Miller
8 months ago

What nonsense,. Our country, Australia, is race-blind in its constitution and this disgraceful attempt to insert a race based body into our constitution was properly rejected as an abhorrent and preposterous idea. Good riddance to it and may we never hear the likes of it again.

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
8 months ago

Australia never had functional law-enforcement. While few people know what this really means as crime witnesses and victims are so successfully silenced, perhaps people sensed that trying to enshrine a “statement from the heart” in our Constitution is self-indulgent amateur theatrics at best.

Steve Hay
Steve Hay
7 months ago

It was a bad idea badly presented. With its spokes men and women then proceeding to insult most of the electorate by calling them “Stupid and Racist” un surprisingly they overweeningly rejected the proposal.
next time you are hectored by a Progressive acquittance just say to them “ What Part of No don’t you understand”
And when they start to annoy you about supporting Hamas baby murders and rapists tell them where to go