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Australia’s anti-democratic Voice campaign deserved to lose

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese joined with supporters and Pat Farmer for his remarkable Run for the Voice campaign as he arrives at Sydney Opera House, August 22nd, 2023. (Photo by DION GEORGOPOULOS / Sydney Morning Herald via Getty Images)

October 16, 2023 - 11:45am

On Saturday, the people of Australia delivered an emphatic “no” in the “Voice” referendum. Contrary to a somewhat lopsided BBC news report, they didn’t vote “against a plan to give greater political rights to Indigenous people”. Rather, they voted for all Australians having the same rights.

What the Australian public recognised is that changing the constitution to incorporate a nationally elected body exclusively for some citizens but not others runs counter to the basic principles of representative democracy.

These principles are threefold. Firstly, that one person means one vote. Secondly, that elected representatives should be the ones in charge (or at least the ones who choose the people in charge). And thirdly, that the results of free and fair elections should be respected. 

It’s not a perfect system, but — as Winston Churchill noted — it’s the best we’ve got. And yet it’s under assault from all sides.

On the Right, reactionary thinkers such as Curtis Yarvin argue that we should revert to absolute monarchy — he’s entitled to his opinions, of course, but presumably we wouldn’t be if he got his wish. A more serious Right-wing challenge came in 2020 when Donald Trump refused to accept the result of the US Presidential election. Of course, Trump wasn’t the first to violate the third principle of representative democracy. Rather, that honour belongs to America’s liberal establishment, whose reaction to the election that Trump did win in 2016 was to spend years failing to prove conspiracy theories about Russian interference.

At the same time, their British brethren were playing copycat. Between 2016 and 2019 the Remain-leaning establishment did everything it could to delegitimise and overturn the result of the Brexit referendum, which Parliament had authorised. What’s more, it was all to keep Britain in the EU — an entity whose leaders don’t have a democratic mandate and whose parliament doesn’t lead (thus violating the first and second principles of representative democracy).

But perhaps the biggest threat of all comes from the Left — which is forever seeking to replace parliaments with “alternative” decision-making structures. Currently, the most fashionable variation is the citizens’ assembly, which seeks to do away with voters altogether by replacing them with randomly chosen members of the public. It’s never properly explained how these citizens would be “guided” in their deliberations, but I’d rather not be disenfranchised in favour of an overgrown focus group.

A more straightforward power-grab is the idea of “vote reparations” — which means giving members of favoured groups extra votes in elections. Yet this is so blatant a fix as to be entirely unproductive.

The concept of “voice” has been knocking about in Left-wing circles for decades now. The definition is slippery, but what it usually involves is an ideologically captured bureaucracy building a power base on the pretext of representing a marginalised community. It’s a frequently effective, and sometimes justified, strategy. However, proponents of the Australian Voice campaign took this a step too far by trying to insert their particular boondoggle into the country’s democratic system. Voters saw what they were up to and put a stop to it.

The rest of us should be inspired by their example. The threat to our representative democracy could come from any direction — Right, Left or centre. When it happens, it is likely to be disguised in progressive or populist clothing. To hold on our votes, then, we must keep our wits about us. 


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Maurice Austin
Maurice Austin
8 months ago

One of the most insidious things about the “Voice” was that it was NOT necessarily going to be a “nationally elected body”, however racially restricted the franchise.
The Government repeatedly refused to tell us HOW the members would be chosen, and further refused to tell us who would even qualify – there is no strict definition of “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander”, and the number of plainly white people who proudly proclaim that they are “Aboriginal” because of a single ancestor seven generations ago (or in one very famous case, no Aboriginal ancestors at all) is huge.
It might have been elected; it might have been appointed. No-one knew what it would do exactly, because the Government steadfastly refused to tell us. No-one knew who might have sat on it.
It was an utterly appalling proposal, and thank God it was thrown out so comprehensively.

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
8 months ago
Reply to  Maurice Austin

It never really occurred to them that the policy would inevitably lead to some version of the Nuremburg Laws as they tried to classify human beings based on racial characteristics.

Ian Baugh
Ian Baugh
8 months ago
Reply to  Maurice Austin

Or to put it even simpler, weren’t you asked to vote for or against a “proposed” law? No thanks. (I’m a Kiwi).

JP Martin
JP Martin
8 months ago
Reply to  Ian Baugh

Meanwhile, progressive Australians look across the ditch with treaty envy.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
8 months ago
Reply to  Maurice Austin

Of course racial classifications imposed on minorities for malign purposes in 20th Century Germany are universally accepted to be malign, but such classifications are but little less malign because the ostensible purpose is to benefit the minority and disadvantage the majority. The fact that the main beneficiaries would in practice be he class of activist bureaucrats rather than the minority concerned merely adds insult to injury.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
8 months ago
Reply to  Maurice Austin

It sounds like they need to introduce Apartheid’s pencil test to distinguish between white people and native Aboriginals. What could possibly go wrong?

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago

Certainly in Ireland, citizens assemblies are a way to soften up the public to whatever the progressive establishment has planned for them next. The number of people participating (around 100) is far too small to be statistically representative, the selection mechanism is opaque if not actually corrupt, the agenda and all the other external contributors are fixed up in advance, and most of the content seems to go over the heads of the majority of the members. They then provide a radical report and a list of uncosted recommendation, all written up by the Chairperson handpicked to deliver that outcome in the first place.

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

It’s the embodiment of something called the ‘Delphi Technique’. Originally a method to come to consensus in research, but now applied to get the ‘right answer’ in group discussions.

Last edited 8 months ago by Derek Smith
Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Plus they get a bung for taking part in the charade. What is it, 500 quid?

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Well said and on the button.

Matt M
Matt M
8 months ago

What I never understand about the left pushing the “citizens’ assembly” is that if you got a group of 100 randomly chosen Brits together to make the rules, they would halt all immigration, string up the paedos and bring back the birch for teenage delinquents in 5 minutes flat. Surely that is not what these activists want.
As for the typical Aussie voter sending this abomination down in flames : good on ya mate.

Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

No, no, no Matt – there would be selection of the right sort of Citizens!

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Buckley

And that’s why 100, because any more they would run out of citizens with the “right” opinions.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
8 months ago

The Voice was only ever going to be a vehicle through which democratic mandates could be overridden. Luckily the majority of Australians are not stupid and saw through this ramshackle charade.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago

They wouldn’t be asked about immigration or crime. The key to citizens assemblies is to control the questions asked.

Terry Raby
Terry Raby
8 months ago

One omission – it is undemocratic for corporate power (and virtue-signalling) to choose sides on political matters and further, to spend shareholders money on matters irrelevant to their mission.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
8 months ago

Speaking here as an American: thank you, citizens of Australia for your democratic rejection of a proposal which would have handcuffed your democracy in the worst way. It is a victory for all free people to see common sense prevail.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
8 months ago

The Voice was clearly undemocratic and wouldn’t solve Indigneous people’s problems.

NITV (National Indigenous TV) had a public service announcement warning Indigeneous people not to sleep on the road.

So I think ‘The Voice’ might have been useful in saying things like ‘Wake up’ or perhaps don’t sniff petrol from cans….. 
That particular problem was so bad that ‘Opal is a variety of low-aromatic 91 RON petrol developed in 2005 by BP Australia to combat the rising use of petrol as an inhalant in remote Indigenous Australian communities’

Ian Baugh
Ian Baugh
8 months ago

“Currently, the most fashionable variation is the citizens’ assembly, which seeks to do away with voters altogether by replacing them with randomly chosen members of the public. It’s never properly explained how these citizens would be “guided” in their deliberations…”
It’s pretty obvious they’d be guided by the experts. Forget about politics, we know the answers.

Alex More
Alex More
8 months ago

If you’re talking about the BBC lopsidedness, just listen to their two dispatches of late from Australia in “From Our Own Correspondent”. Used to be a good show that, now just a branch of Neo-Colonialist Studies

Lancastrian Oik
Lancastrian Oik
8 months ago

The Aussies dodged a bullet there.
The “Voice” would have been deployed as a means to circumvent democracy. It would have been stuffed with “indigenous” lefty shills and given an effective veto over agricultural, mineral and water rights and any form of land development, all in the name of “equity” but calculated to be a stitch-up for the creation of the Antipodean version of the globalist eco-bolleaux leftie nightmare.
Well played, my Aussie mates, well played.
Scene: somewhere on the outskirts of a dusty outback town in Queensland.
OILY ‘FAWLTY-ESQUE’ SALESMAN: Ah, good day to you, Mr. and Mrs. Okker. Welcome to the show room, where as you can see we have this lovely (deliberately mangles words) Ormmph uv Fjords, in a particularly fetching shade of brown.
MRS. OKKER: It’s a what? Can you say that again, please?
SALESMAN: (slightly less mangled this time) A ‘Mouse of Swords’.
MR. OKKER: You mean a House of Lords, mate?
SALESMAN: No, not as such, because you see…
MRS. OKKER (interrupting) Not as such? It’s an unelected upper chamber, whose members will possess political power rooted in and emanating from ancient claims over land or territory with as-yet unclear and unspecified vetoes over legislation passed by democratically elected members of a lower house? Looks very much like one to me. No thanks.
MR. OKKER: Me too, mate. You can shove your Neo-feudalism up your arse.

Paul Hemphill
Paul Hemphill
8 months ago

A disingenuous article and one sided article. It’s wasn’t so much that No voters “saw though” any deception and subterfuge abd won’t be taken fir mugs. Rather, they or indeed Australians as a whole are both very conservative and averse to change and also, Ill-informed on our history our political institutions and highly susceptible to scare campaigns on matters that potentially impact their personal interests.
No voters were a mixed bunch and reflected and exposed pre-existing divisions in our society, economy and politics, each melding into each other: Inner city versus outer suburbs, cities versus the regions, younger versus older, affluent versus the less well-off, educated versus less educated, black versus white (and even, black versus black) and the the so-called black armband and the white blindfold narratives of our history. Aboriginal communities wanted the Voice, but suburban and regional Australia rejected it. Even a large number of Labor and Green Party supporters cast No votes. The further one got from the cities, the more Australia said No. And they ranged from rational habitual conservatives to sovereign citizens, conspiracists, anti-vaxxers, racists, and what we down here call RWNJs or “right wing nut-jobs and “cookers”.

Richard M
Richard M
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul Hemphill

Why would you ever expect a constitutional referendum not to reflect “pre-existing divisions” in your society? Those “divisions” are the whole reason we have voting at all. If everyone already agreed then it wouldn’t be necessary.

In a democratic vote, even people we don’t much like get a say. The point of campaigning is to persuade them of your case and to change their minds. I don’t see how supporters of the Voice expected to do that with such deliberately vague proposals.

7 years ago, the main error Remain supporters made in the UK Brexit referendum was tonal. “Vote Remain or you’re a moron who doesn’t know your own mind and probably a massive racist too” was the effective unofficial slogan. It was at best merely patronising but at worst utterly contemptuous of half the population. Unsurpringly it didn’t work.

I’m not close enough to Australian politics to claim any authority on the subject, but from what I have read there are certainly echoes of 2016 here.

Chess S
Chess S
8 months ago
Reply to  Richard M

I agree that there are echoes of the Remain campaign in this result.
The No campaign had two main slogans: ‘If you don’t know, vote No’ and ‘Say No to the Voice of Division’. Whether you agreed or not, they were short, pithy and to the point.
The response of the Yes campaign? Remarks like that of a veteran journalist who described people who didn’t know as ‘dinosaurs and dickheads’. Any question about anything was dismissed as being racist. Guess what? Most Australians aren’t and don’t like being told they are. Now we’re being told that the Voice proposal was too complex a concept for Bruce and Sheila Public to understand. People don’t really like that either.
May be now the government can help the Indigenous people living in remote communities in unimaginable squalor and violence rather than pandering to the activist class

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul Hemphill

“Australians as a whole are both very conservative and averse to change ”

Australia was about the first modern country to give women the vote, and then followed a lot of innovative legislation – old age pensions etc. Which continued with a ‘pivot’ from the White Australia Policy to Multiculturalism and massive immigration, anti-discrimination legislation … and then we had a plebiscite which gave us gay marriage. We examined our history and decided that Aborigines still had land rights and implemented those – a huge change. We have about the most liberal abortion laws in the world. We are very early adopters of new technologies. Australia is not a very conservative country. This is the benefit of living to be old – you have experienced living in a country that is constantly changing, and mostly, improving. If you’re lucky enough to have lived in other countries and travelled widely you will see that Australia is a modern Western dynamic country – most countries are a lot more conservative than Australia.

Last edited 8 months ago by Russell Hamilton
Chris Keating
Chris Keating
8 months ago

Good comment Russell, but there is a huge dog in the manger attitude that infects the country. If we had none of those things that were fought for decades ago that you mentioned, I doubt that they would now be attained.

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
8 months ago

I used to think like you do Russell until in 2009 I became one of the many concurrent targets of a stalker ex-coworker, whom I never even dated.
The stalker is a government insider with unrestricted access to info e.g. where to find people in witness protection.
His crimes are ongoing to this day, and became so devastating, I had to give up trying to earn a salary in 2017, give up mixing with people in 2018, give up having my investment properties tenanted in 2021 – all of that in a leafy Melbourne suburb of million $ homes.
To protect others from the inevitable spill-overs of crimes against me, I am trapped in my own home which I have owned since 2001 on my own. Crimes are happening to me in my own home also of course, 24x7x365. Last cyber-crime less than an hour ago, last bikie visit to my home less than 12 hours ago.
Australia never had functional law-enforcement.
Australia’s most dangerous criminals have always been police officers.
They show off their risk-free criminality ganging up on crime victims, like toddlers show off a new puppy.
Look up my name to see how this plays out.
In Australia all crime victims are assumed to be pathetic charity cases who deserve what is happening to them because of a string of poor life-choices and costly mistakes. Hence the suburb, financial references.

Last edited 8 months ago by Katalin Kish
Chris Keating
Chris Keating
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul Hemphill

Excellent comment Paul. The Idiocy and the Apathetics have run amok and couldn’t really tell you what in fact they rejected. Because they had no idea about it in the first place and couldn’t be arsed to find out about it.

Annabelle and Peter Woodhouse
Annabelle and Peter Woodhouse
8 months ago

White people win; Aboriginal people lose. Change has to start somewhere. The Aboriginal people have lived, at the latest estimate, at least 40,000 years in Australia. When the white people arrived much of their treatment of the Aboriginal people was nasty and barbaric. They were even poisoned like rats. White history in Australia is pretty short.

Richard M
Richard M
8 months ago

Are you absolutely sure you want to stand on the principle that how long an ethnic group has lived in a given place dictates the political rights they have?

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
8 months ago
Reply to  Richard M

They were invaded and had their lands stolen from them despite instructions from the Crown to the contrary at the time. They are definitely owed some political consideration and this would have been a step in that direction.

Richard M
Richard M
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Keating

Your point is a different one to the OP. But in any case, its not clear what the Voice would have been because its proponents declined to explain to anyone how it would actually work, what powers it would have etc.
Do you seriously expect people to vote for unspecified additional political rights for one group over and above other citizens because you’ve told them its the virtuous thing to do in light of historical wrongs?

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
8 months ago
Reply to  Richard M

Richard, The mechanism was to be decided by an act of parliament. When this happened the nuts and bolts would have been decided then. It was to prevent what had occurred to previous aborigine advisory bodies from happening again. They had become political footballs and defunded into oblivion.

Richard M
Richard M
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Keating

The mechanism was to be decided by an act of parliament. When this happened the nuts and bolts would have been decided then.

So exactly as I described the situation then.