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  • Writer's pictureMichael Johnsen

Referendum - the date of destiny

14 October 2023 will go down in history as a defining moment for Australia and its people.

Australians will vote on a proposal to change our constitution, forever. Regardless of personal views and leanings, the fact is, this proposed change has unknown consequences, thanks to the smarmy way Prime Minister Albanese has approached the issue.

He has not read the Uluru statement, which is the genesis of the Voice to Parliament.

"Why would I" he said. Why would we vote for the permanent constitutional change then?

Uluru Statement photo credit - Clive Scollay

Prime Minister Albanese has constantly spoken of the need to give little detail as the parliament will decide what the Voice to Parliament will look like and what its powers may or may not be. Therein lay the real issue.

Much has been said about the power a Voice may or may not have yet, constitutional experts have argued that legal realities are unknown. Both sides acknowledge that the Voice may well have High Court implications, particularly in relation to both parliament and the Executive having sought advice from the Voice, prior to government decisions being made.

Legal issues aside, race based division is a key concern among many.

It is true that our constitution has a race based section. Some words in section 51 give the Australian Parliament the power to make special laws for the people of any race. This is called the race power.

Yet, in 1967, a very successful referendum was held with a 97% agreement that Aboriginals were to be counted in our census, therefore recognised as citizens, with the obligations and privileges afforded to all.

Commentary so far has been very positive in respect of having constitutional recognition for Aboriginals as Australia's First Nations people.

If Prime Minister Albanese had proposed both recognition by way of preamble and, remove the race power in section 51, this upcoming referendum would be a resounding success. Australians would whole heartedly embrace such a change to our constitution.

Without exception, every person I have spoken with is concerned that this proposed change will entrench race based division. The very thing Australians don't want, has been ignored by Prime Minister Albanese and those blindly following him.

Apparently the Voice is going to be an advisory body only, so parliament and the government executive can listen and respond to appropriate policy suggestions. The real question is, why isn't government listening now? There is a plethora of statistics demonstrating poor lifestyles, disadvantage and negatively over represented Aboriginal people in Australia. Will a Voice to Parliament fix that? Will it create a more effective public policy process compared to today? I cannot see how, given what is already known and what representative bodies already exist.

Perhaps the real voice Anthony Albanese wants to hear, are those he thinks will be his power base for maintaining longevity in office, rather than outcome based public policy implementation.

Warm and fuzzy platitudes sound nice yet rarely, are they being received without due cynicism.

As the Prime Minister has firmly hung his political hat on this issue, 14 October 2023, may well be his date with destiny.


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