Thoughts on the Voice to Parliament

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Thoughts on the Voice to Parliament

3 October 2023 Hits:2454

I confess that I find myself conflicted about the Voice to Parliament and not for the reasons you may think. My primary conflict is that I, a white migrant from England, get to vote on something that affects a minority group I am not part of. By the end of this decade, it’s estimated that over one million indigenous people will account for just under 4% of Australia’s population. You and I get a say in the future for people who are not us. Let that sink in.

I hope this blog will remove some of the confusion surrounding the Voice and aid you in making a decision that aligns with your conscience, the Scriptures, and the character of Jesus.

As a Christian leader, I don’t tell people how they should vote. Our unity is in Jesus Christ, and we respect a diversity of opinions. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t engage in respectful discussions on issues. We certainly should, hence this blog.

What the heck is it?

The Australian Constitution contains statements of intent or goodwill without specific details. The government’s task is to draft bills debated by parliament and decide whether they will pass them into law. For example, our Constitution allows the Commonwealth to raise an army and navy. Air forces did not exist in 1901, but the term “military defence” in the Constitution has been considered broad enough to include an air force (and nuclear submarines). The details are left to the government to work out. It’s the same for the Voice.

When you vote in this referendum, you’ll answer this question:

“A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Do you approve this proposed alteration?”

If approved at the referendum, several lines would be inserted into the Constitution in Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Constitutional expert and Voice adviser Anne Twomey says, “The government would be empowered to specify the legal effect of the Voice’s representations.”

Members of the Voice would be selected by Indigenous communities, not chosen by the government, and serve for fixed periods. If formed, the Voice would be an advisory body to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country a say in government policy and programs that affect the lives of Indigenous peoples. It would not deliver services, manage government funding, or mediate between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

Bipartisan

While political parties have divided over the Voice, that has not always happened. On 16 October 2007, Prime Minister John Howard promised to hold a referendum on constitutional recognition, and Labor leader Kevin Rudd gave bipartisan support. On 8 November 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced plans for a referendum on the issue. In 2015, Tony Abbott promised to do the same.

In 2017, the Uluru Statement from the Heart asked for an indigenous voice as the first step: “We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.” These Indigenous leaders asked for something both sides of politics had long promised to do.

But, Indigenous people don’t all agree

Yes, that’s correct. Australia’s indigenous people are not a homogenous group any more than Christians are. Christians disagree on all sorts of things and have done since the time of Jesus.

Indigenous people are diverse, and not all agree with the proposed Voice. But the majority do. While it’s difficult to achieve a representative sample of the Indigenous population, the polls that have been conducted show overwhelming support for the Voice by Indigenous people.

Racist and divisive?

A major criticism of the Voice is that it divides Australians based on race. But is this accurate? Unfortunately, people on both sides of this campaign have acted unkindly and used the “race” card to attack others.

Race” is about physical characteristics such as skin colour and hair type. The Voice is concerned with indigeneity. Australia is home to many ethnic groups but has only one Indigenous people. They were here first; hence, they are called First Nations. An Indigenous Voice would not be racist; it would simply recognise the original inhabitants of Australia in the Constitution.

Informed by Faith

Christians have a higher ethic with which to form opinions and inform decisions. We must resist being primarily influenced by our politics or personality. When it comes to decision-making, we ask how our Christian faith informs our conclusion. I invite you to sit with that question.

Also, how does our understanding of God, Jesus, and Scripture aid us in deciding? To be like Jesus, Christians count others as more significant than themselves. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” That’s what Jesus did for us, so that is how we will respond to others (Philippians 2:3-4).

Regarding the Indigenous Voice, I encourage you to be informed by your faith. Jesus said the most important law was to love God and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” In other words, put yourself in others’ shoes and see what life is like for them (empathy). If I were part of a minority group that faired far worse than the general population, would a direct channel (Voice) to the government help me in my plight?

I also encourage you to think beyond “If you don’t know, just vote no.” We Christians want to see others experience God’s love and grace in Jesus. We never tell people if they don’t know Jesus, then say no to him. We encourage people to dig deep, read, pray, and investigate. It’s the same with the Voice. If you don’t know, FIND OUT.

Refute false info

Christians are to be people of truth. We follow a person who described himself as The Truth. And so, all we do in life must reflect the truth. False narratives and conspiracies have no place in the Christian story. They are contradictions of all that it means to follow Jesus. So, however you vote in the Referendum, make sure it’s according to truth, not lies and fear. Here are some of the false narratives I’ve come across:

“You won’t lose your backyard, but you will have to pay the rent.”

The Voice will only offer advice. Parliament and the government will decide the law.

“The Voice will lead to reparations.” The Voice has no power to legislate on anything. It cannot force compensation.

“The Voice is a smokescreen to set up an Aboriginal state within the nation.” There is no evidence this is the case.

“The Voice will lead to a one-world government.” A narrative pushed by Christians who embrace a futurist, conspiratorial view of so-called “end times” prophecy. They say the Voice is part of a push by the United Nations to bring Australia under its control. The Voice is an advisory committee to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution. It has nothing to do with international affairs.

“The Referendum will include a sneaky extra question designed to change Australia’s system of government and abolish private land ownership.” No, it won’t.

“The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a 26-page document.”

Wrong. The Statement is one page of 439 words. The so-called “other pages” are part of the 2017 Final Report of the Referendum Council. Within that report is a history of Indigenous Australians titled “Our Story,” which is not part of the Referendum. The report has been readily available since 2017 and has not been “exposed” by any journalist.

“The No campaign used AI in its ads?” No, it didn’t. An unofficial site did that. One that is not linked to or supported by the No campaign.

“There’s no proof Australia’s Indigenous people inhabited this land for 60,000 years, as the Uluru Statement from the Heart stated.” Yes, there is. Several archaeological sites are over 50,000 years old; one is dated 65,000 years old (Madjedbebe site in Arnhem land).

“The Federal Government paid John Farnham 30 million taxpayer dollars for use of his song, You’re the Voice.” Wrong. The government is prohibited by law from spending money to promote either side of the referendum case.

Other countries

If the Voice is passed, Australia won’t be alone in having a representative expression for Indigenous people. New Zealand and Taiwan have outstanding examples.

Norway, Sweden and Finland all have representation for the Sami people. Every model is flawed and not without their challenges. They do not always please all parties, but they provide a stronger voice for the Sami, and clearly, the sky has not fallen on any of these Scandinavian countries.

Canada formally recognised its indigenous peoples in its Constitution in 1982. Bolivia has recognised its majority indigenous population since its Referendum in 2009.

I do not doubt that this Referendum could have been managed better, starting with dialogue and bipartisan support. Referenda rarely succeed without it. But this is where we find ourselves now, so make an informed decision and cast your vote on or before 14 October.

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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13 replies on “Thoughts on the Voice to Parliament”

Mary-Jane Farrersays:

Well said, Rob! I like the way you have addressed the various concerns that people have.
Personally,I strongly believe that a YES vote is the right way to go. What are we saying to our Indigenous fellow Australians if we say “no” to their request?

Kathy Lawsonsays:

Thank you Rob for your clear presentation. It’d be nice to think that as Christian members of humanity we’d be known for our kindness and compassion and as you said, seekers of the truth. That truth in relation to this referendum and our First Nations people is unlikely to be found in popular media and news sources where negativity, division and conspiratorial thinking is the order of the day. As someone who attended school in the 50s and early 60s my education pretty much excluded any mention of the people who were living here when my ancestors arrived in 1788. But since then I’ve been on a journey of discovery by reading, listening and visiting and seeking the truth about our colonial history. Like Mary-Jane I too believe a YES vote is the only way we can begin to address so much terrible injustice.

Lorrainesays:

😞 sorry. Don’t agree with a lot of that. By ur writing I clearly pick up what you will b voting.

Deansays:

Rob, i generally enjoy your church but you should concentrate on preaching the bible instead of pretending to be impartial. This isn’t the first time you have gone down this road and its not a good look.

Rob Buckinghamsays:

Thank you for your comment, Dean. I presume you’ve read the blog and noticed that I quote the Scriptures. I could have included much more of the Bible, but you can incorporate only so much in one blog. Justice for marginalised people is a major theme in Scripture. As for being impartial, I don’t claim to be. I don’t tell people how they should vote. The blog (like any blog) is about providing perspective and encouraging respectful conversations. Being told that I “should concentrate on preaching the bible” is disrespectful and unhelpful.

Chris Portersays:

Are we one nation under God. Why do we need to change our constitution to fit in one group. Are we not all equal. It is obvious you are a yes voter Rob. I have worked with my indigenous friends and no matter what the vote says they receive plenty of help. The question is “Why stir the pot”. Already there are approximately 12 ish indigenous members of parliament. So we cannot say they have no voice. Our constitution already gives everyone a voice. What next ? Every person who calls Australia Home already has equal rights. I pray the Truth of why the push to change is exposed. They need a hand up not another hand out. May God guide everyone on how to vote using wisdom.

David Vowlessays:

Most Australians would gladly support recognition of First Nations people in the Constitution. If that were the only question to be put to the people on October 14, it would have strong bipartisan support and receive a resounding ‘Yes’ vote. However, ‘the voice’ is clearly an unknown step too far, if we are to believe the polls. Many people are concerned about the possible intentions contained in the Uluru Statement – and its addenda – such as ‘sovereign’ First Nations and financial reparations for past injustices.
You are absolutely right, Rob, that this could have been handled better by the government. A constitutional convention or other process could have resulted in greater bipartisanship. If ‘No’ prevails on October 14, the government must bear the blame.

Mary-Jane Farrersays:

Regarding the “fear of reparations”, many people feared that millions would be paid in compensation after Kevin Rudd’s sorry speech in 2008. However, not a cent has been paid claimed for or paid out.
Is the fear of reparations a sign of corporate guilt over how our indigenous brothers and sisters have been treated?

Kathy Lawsonsays:

In relation to the 2 questions asked…
“Are we one nation under God”? As a Christian I would like to think so but perhaps the majority of Australians might not. “Are we not all equal”? I would think in the eyes of God we certainly are. However in practical day to day living, certainly not. Where we live in this country, our education opportunities, our family background, our health and other life circumstances can shape us in very unequal ways.
The point of a voice for First Nations people is not to increase help but to more strategically focus that help. Likewise it is not to give another “handout” but to give a more strategic “hand up”. The pot definitely needs some stirring in order to produce a more targeted, wise and effective way to close some very significant gaps.
Additionally, the “12 ish indigenous members of parliament” largely speak through the mouthpieces of the parties to which they belong.

Mary-Jane Farrersays:

Agreed. The indigenous members of parliament represent their electorate of which a minority will be indigenous and also follow the line of the party to which they belong.

Carolyn Elliottsays:

Early Voter 4.10.23.
“Referendum ballot paper and little pencil in hand I stood in a little booth today and began to weep. A lifetime of pent-up hope for a better way, and pent-up shame for systemic failings I could not change. I wept as I wrote Yes. I wept as I silpped my ballot into the box, I wept as I left the building. The lady who had given me a Yes flyer on my way in turned as I walked towards her… I asked her for a hug and she gladly embraced me.”

Mark McLeansays:

Very well written, with kindness from Jesus in you heart as always Rob.
I see your point re: being conflicted about the Voice. However, my thinking is that when Europeans settled here and declared terra nullius, initiated the stolen generation, committing many atrocities, Indigenous people had no say. Now thank God they can vote and also have a say in trying to influence prior to the referendum, albeit they are only 3 to 4% of the population. I believe this is a beautiful, kind, and probably the most important step we have attempted, to right some of the wrongs from the past.

Damiensays:

You say,

“My primary conflict is that I, a white migrant from England, have the right to vote on an issue that affects a minority group I’m not part of.”

The fact you can vote means you’re an Australian. This proposed, permanent change doesn’t solely impact a minority group. It concerns all of us and, if passed, will likely affect all future generations of Australians.

What frustrates me is the insinuation that those voting ‘No’ are racists or misinformed. I believe many of us view the proposed change as a poorly thought-out idea that won’t achieve its intended goals.

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