On the victory podium after last year’s election, the first thing Anthony Albanese did was commit his new Labor government to the Uluru Statement from the Heart “in full”.
This document, developed by invite-only delegates to a conference at Uluru in 2017, demands a voice enshrined in the constitution, a treaty and so-called truth-telling – as if there is some conspiracy to hide the truth of Australia’s past.
Voice, treaty, truth is the catchcry.
It also asserts the “sovereignty” of indigenous people, as if they should be divided from and governed differently from other Australians.
Despite being committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart “in full” there’s been no indication from Labor about what “sovereignty” might mean for one race of the many that make up modern Australia.
But “sovereignty” is clearly part of the agenda of the Voice, about which Australians will go to a referendum later this year.
In keeping with his commitment to the Uluru statement, Albanese last year wore a t-shirt with the words “voice, treaty, truth” emblazed on it.
It’s obvious these are a package deal.
Albanese’s appointees to the voice referendum working group, Thomas Mayo and Teela Reid, both speak of treaty, forcing white people to “pay the rent” and upending structures which allegedly oppress indigenous people.
Mayo Tweetted in 2020 that “a constitutionally enshrined Voice is important to establish to use the truth to support treaty negotiations”.
“Australians already will support a referendum to recognise our Voice,” he said.
“They are much less likely to support what we may claim in a treaty (reparations, land back, etc).”
When asked in May of this year if the Voice would lead to a treaty and truth telling, Albanese said: “They are very much a part of the next phase, if you like.”
But last week in a train-wreck radio interview with 2GB’s Ben Fordham, this façade slipped.
“This is not about a treaty,” he said four times.
“I can't say it any clearer, compensation has nothing to do with what people will vote on later this year.”
Fordham pressed: “I'm talking about after that. There are three stages, after we go through the Voice is it natural to assume after we go through the Voice?”
Albanese replied: “No, it's not natural.”
Fordham said: “So Thomas Mayo is wrong?”
Albanese ignored that.
So which is it? A voice enshrined in the constitution that has nothing to do with future treaty-making or simply an advisory voice enshrined in the constitution?
Once something is in the constitution, its powers and reach are ultimately decided by the unelected judges of the High Court.
Disagreements between the Voice, government and parliament will grind their way through legal processes, putting sand in the gears of the affairs of state.
It feels like Labor is trying to trick the nation into voting for a permanent change to the constitution so the agendas of the Uluru statement can be progressed but without debating the consequences.
That statement, co-written by Cape York leader Noel Pearson, says changes to the constitution are needed to give indigenous people special rights because of “the torment of our powerlessness”.
In the excellent even-handed Sky News documentary about the Voice this week, No campaign leader Jacinta Nampijinpa Price called Pearson’s and Yes campaign director Dean Parkin’s bluff.
She rejects the notion that there is a general gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
“The Gap exists between (those who are) marginalised and those who aren’t,” Price said.
“Dean Parkin is not marginalised but he’s Indigenous, but the proponents of the Voice are suggesting that as a race of Australians we are inherently disadvantaged.
“I’m not disadvantaged, Dean Parkin isn’t disadvantaged, Noel Pearson certainly isn’t disadvantaged, he lives in Noosa, but the truth of the situation is the gap exists between the marginalised and those who aren’t.”
Price alleged negative indigenous cultural factors, which would remain whether or not a
Voice was enshrined in the constitution, prevented voices like her grandmother Tess Napaljarri Ross from being heard.
Napaljarri Ross was violently beaten by an Aboriginal man in her dysfunctional Yuendumu community in central Australia.
When Price arrived at Yuendumu with Sky News to speak with her, she was forbidden to speak.
“I should have been able to come in and talk directly to my family members about their thoughts as Australian citizens and individuals in their own right about what they do know and don’t know about the referendum,” Price said.
“Without fear of backlash, they should have the freedom to have their voice heard, ultimately.”
In a strong intervention this week into the debate, former Prime Minister John Howard questioned why Labor was dividing Australians.
“The more you get told, ‘You’ve got to do this because it’s the right thing to do and the good thing to do’, the more people will say: ‘Hang on, tell me why.’
“We are not being told why. That is the greatest weakness in the (Yes) case.”
But Mayo and the drafters of Uluru have told us why.
The Voice must be created to negotiate a treaty and compensation.
Albanese also told us the why on election night last year when he committed his government to the Uluru Statement from the Heart “in full”.
But in a bid to keep his referendum alive, he denied it on radio last week.
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