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HomeVolume 27Voice: A rebadged ATSIC for the Constitution?

Voice: A rebadged ATSIC for the Constitution?

COMMENT by DON FULLER

The ALP is once again set to cause major problems, both to Aboriginal People and the wider Australian community, due to naivety and a superficial understanding of Aboriginal human development in remote regions.

The introduction of self-management and self-determination by the Whitlam government in the early 1970s resulted in devastating living conditions and outcomes for Aboriginal people living within rural and remote regions, where most Aboriginal people live.

“The Voice” is the current hand-out thrown by Mr Albanese to his left wing faction.

As with the Whitlam government, this is likely to further escalate the misery suffered by Aboriginal peoples and lead to increasing division within the Australian community.

About 35% of Australia’s Indigenous people live in major cities, with 65% living in regional and remote areas.

Many elite left-wing activists from the city who noisily say that they speak on behalf of Aboriginal people have had little or no experience living within remote communities.

They also possess very weak linkages with traditional Aboriginal culture and law.

If disadvantaged and marginalised, such urban Aboriginal people have far more in common with poor white people within urban regions than Aboriginal people living within remote regions.

This can be seen from the virtue signalling through “welcome to country” presentations where body painting, dance and musical instruments have been assembled in a manner more reminiscent of a school theatre presentation, than a serious and respectful acknowledgement of traditional Aboriginal cultures.

Such virtue signalling is an insult to traditional Aboriginal people and to the wider Australian community.

It is mainly such “woke” urban Aboriginal people who have been pushing the left-wing of the Labor party to include “The Voice” within the Australian Constitution.

A similar voice to government has already existed in the form of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). This organisation existed from 1990 to 2005. It too, was established under an ALP government.

ATSIC was also supposed to be the body through which Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were formally involved in the processes of government affecting their lives.

ATSIC involved widely elected regional councils established throughout Australia and a board of commissioners who made decisions on policy and funding.

However, this body became characterised by corruption, mismanagement and serious alleged criminal behaviours by its leadership. It was completely ineffectual in overcoming the major problems faced by Aboriginal people – particularly within the remote regions of Australia.

As a result it was disbanded in 2005.

A major problem with “The Voice” is that its proponents want it enshrined in the Constitution, so it can’t be abolished even if it follows the performance of ATSIC.

By wanting the body included in the Constitution, the proposal suggests that regardless of unacceptable performance, the body should be free to continue.

This is a proposal without precedence within responsible governance arrangements, anywhere in the world!

Such a body would be, like ATSIC, elected by Indigenous Australians that may exercise de-facto vetos over any policy or legislation that was seen to affect Indigenous Australians. This would be likely to include all policies and legislation that come before the Australian Parliament.

It would therefore have enormous power and influence and would effectively, despite vehement denials, become a third chamber of parliament.

To further add to the insurmountable problems this would pose for governing Australia, there would be a “truth-telling” commission and a treaty. This would inevitably lead to compensation payments or reparations to be funded by tax-payers and would seriously impair the Federal and State government budgets. 

What is it about the proposal for a “Voice” to government that is likely to drastically change the disastrous outcomes or be different from ATSIC?

No detail has been released by the government nor the proponents of “The Voice” on how it will function in practice, or on how the previous problems experienced by ATSIC could be avoided.

This is a major problem given that it is intended to include this new body in a changed Constitution.

For example, how is “The Voice” going to deal with the waste and incompetence that was common in ATSIC and many Aboriginal organisations?

The ALP is supposed to be a party with the ideals of economic and social equality for all Australians. However, their political representatives appear voiceless and clueless when dealing with the substantive issues of economic and human development for those living within remote regions.

NT Senator Jacinta Price on the other hand, rightly points to the need for legislative change in a number of practical areas.

She also calls for economic development to be the main basis for improvements in the standard of living and human development of Aboriginal people.

In the Northern Territory Aboriginal people own around 45% of the land area and 80% of the coastline. Such vast assets have however, failed to generate economic and employment opportunities due to road blocks imposed by governments.   

Urgent legislative change is needed to reform the Land Rights Act and the land councils acting as impenetrable gate keepers to economic development on Aboriginal land.

Over many years commentators have pointed to the substantial economic activities that could be generated through joint-venture operations in numerous industries, including horticulture, tourism, environmental management, forestry, agriculture and pastoral operations.

There is also a major opportunity for small enterprise development in Aboriginal remote communities in the form of bakeries, fuel service stations, laundromats, furniture retailing and landscaping, for example.

However, governments have listened with a tin ear and lacked the courage and commitment to act.

It is far from clear how “The Voice” to government will change this. We can expect a never ending gravy train of reparations for past misdeeds, by those claiming some relationship with Aboriginal people, however marginal this may be.

Such payments are likely to reduce the resources available for Aboriginal people living within remote regions and further damage already intolerable living conditions.

If we are to succeed as a nation on behalf of all citizens we need to find ways to work together for mutual benefit rather than increasing the divisions within our society.

Dr Don Fuller has published widely in the field of Aboriginal economic development in remote regions of the Northern Territory. He has worked in a number of remote communities in the Territory attempting to assist in the building of small enterprises to aid community development. Dr Fuller is an occasional visitor to Alice Springs.

PHOTO at top from FaceBook.

34 COMMENTS

  1. @ Don Fuller: Much of what you write I agree with and much of it I don’t. At least you know what you’re talking about.
    I believe that paradoxically it is possible for two opposing arguments when dealing with the “remote Aboriginal” / “mainstream society” dichotomy to both be right (or wrong for that matter).
    For better or worse ATSIC came the closest to being a pan-Aboriginal voice.
    I think that John Howard’s abolishment (with bi-partisan support) of ATSIC was prompted by political opportunism and was a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
    If a similar propaganda campaign was waged against the Parliament and the same criteria applied as used against ATSIC, it too should have been disbanded.

  2. An interesting read.
    ATSIC was not as bad as it is described today. My brother Tim Egan, a hard-headed, conservative ex NT Police Inspector, was appointed to examine the books of all ATSIC regions after the Howard Government sacked it.
    He was especially asked to identify fraud. Tim referred to that as “snouting”. After his meticulous scrutiny he reported that in over 90% of regions there had been impeccable book-keeping and the implementation of many sound activities and policies.
    Where there had been “snouting,” particularly in Victoria and Queensland, it had been extreme: He named the crooks. So Don, meaningful comparisons today are difficult.
    Surely, First Australians deserve a place in the sun? The Commonwealth government simply needs to bullet-proof its approach for a change.
    I propose the implementation of a body to be called “The Academy of First Australians” after the style of L’Académie Française, with a permanent mandate. There is no requirement for a referendum or any Constitutional amendment: Given the privacy of the ballot box, 97% of the population would put down any attempt to empower 3% to have a privileged position.
    The 1967 referendum was a total aberration, never likely to be repeated.
    But it did give the Feds the power to pass (benign) laws based on race.
    Stupid activists refer to this as “the race clause” and demand its rejection, but this merely recognises how scant is their level of understanding.
    To demand “A Voice to Parliament” is surely the kiss of death.

  3. Don I want to see your evidence that there has been improvement after ATSIC: My direct observations are that things have declined since the abolition of ATSIC and especially since the NTER and the abolition of ATSIC programs like CDEP and CHIP.
    A crucial structural issue that you fail to mention is the long term neglect of remote living Indigenous people and the shameful inability of government to deliver equitable NEEDS based support on a recurrent basis, not to mention extraordinary capital and infrastructure shortfalls everywhere.
    As an economist you would know that land is but one factor of production and much Indigenous titled land has low commercial value in a western developmental sense.
    If the Voice is a constitutionally enshrined ATSIC terrific hopefully such embeddedness will stop any future government from abolishing an Indigenous led institution that did much good and that needed strengthening not elimination: So much for the land of the fair go!

  4. Fair enough Frank and Ted. I have a lot of respect for both your valuable opinions and experience.
    Aboriginal people do need a place in the sun.
    However, this won’t, in my opinion, be achieved in Australia by attempts at Constitutional change.
    It needs also to reflect far better than previously, the silent majority of Aboriginal people suffering in remote regions, rather than the “woke” urban Aboriginal people with questionable linkages to more traditional people(s).
    Thanks for your valuable comments.

  5. While there is an oblique reference to “the introduction of self-management and self-determination by the Whitlam government in the early 1970s”, there’s no mention of an earlier Indigenous representative body, the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (better remembered as the “National Aboriginal Conference”) established in 1973 to provide an advisory role to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the minister.
    The members of the NAC were also elected by Indigenous people.
    Established by the Whitlam government, the NAC was reformed during the Fraser government but eventually abolished in 1985 by the Hawke government.
    Despite being intended as an advisory body to government, the NAC was prominent for its political activism; not least its advocacy for a treaty (or more specifically a “makarrata”) between Indigenous people and the Federal government, and for national land rights.
    ATSIC arose from the ashes of the NAC during the latter years of the Hawke government.
    The NAC lasted 12 years, ATSIC for 15 years – there seems to be something of a life cycle for these attempts of Indigenous representative bodies to government.
    Here we go again with “the Voice” but is it going to be just another Tower of Babel?

  6. Jon – I certainly wasn’t trying to argue that things had not worsened since ATSIC. They continue to worsen significantly.
    As Ted says, any new body needs to be “bullet-proofed”, but, in my view, attempting to put it into the Constitution will increase divisions within society, particularly if it doesn’t perform.
    While land is only one factor of production, much of it has a high potential value. It provides therefore, an essential tool by which Aboriginal people can negotiate with the wider community for additional factors of production such as capital and labour.
    Many businesses are interested to establish such joint venture operations.
    Clearly far more needs to be done by governments to build education and training within Aboriginal communities.
    I also agree with a number of your points, such as that relating to CDEP, and how this could have been built on far further, and infrastructure requirements – but due to space requirements, these discussions may be for another article.

  7. I obviously don’t agree with much of what you say Don.
    You have no doubt read my letter to the Editor “Captain Cook didn’t follow King’s orders” (Erwin’s headline).
    I’m embarrassed that this country was settled on the fiction of Terra Nullius. And it’s high time we acted on the eleven? reports to Parliament on these matters.
    The Uluru Statement From The Heart is the plea of First Nations peoples to Government, and is the culmination of their efforts after an exhaustive process.
    It is insulting to dismiss it, and all involved, and end up back at “Start”.

  8. @ Don Fuller: Far from the self determination policy resulting in devastating outcomes for Aboriginal people it produced some of the most important and celebrated outcomes for some groups.
    Take the Pintupi / Luritja people living at Papunya or the Ngaanyatjarra people at Docker River. Both these groups were living on other tribes’ countries and treated as second class citizens.
    At Papunya, “Pintupi rubbish” was a commonly used expression in the early days and most Pintupi denied they came from the West. No way in the world would outsiders at Docker River get access to new housing. Many lived at the rubbish dump.
    As a result of the self determination policy with support from the Federal Government both outsider groups were able to establish their own communities, Kintore and Tjukurla.
    This happened despite the ferocious opposition of the CLP Government here in the NT. They argued that they had already supplied (meagre) resources at Papunya and Docker and would not replicate them.
    The horrific violence between different language and family groups at other communities has been avoided and both Kintore and Tjukurla communities are peaceful and welcoming communities.
    Try telling people at Kintore or Tjukurla and several other communities that self determination was failure.

  9. Having watched media presentations on the statement over the last few months it’s hard to tell which people truly represent the rural Indigenous people around from round here and other similar areas, and which are the hangers on from non rural areas, claiming Aboriginality.
    How can the ordinary people tell? Should Aboriginality be registered at birth as it is in some other countries or will the future generations describe this as the age of compensation just as we had the age of reptiles, with people lining up for their “just” rights? Can I suggest that the current song on the ABC “We are Australian. We are one, but we are many” be appointed as our national anthem, or having seen Indonesian primary school texts labelling Australia as South Irian and West New Guinea as they have done with West Irian. Was that a better alternative to what we got and continue to question?

  10. @ Ralph: So glad you stick up for self-determination.
    As I see it the authorities (politicians, bureaucrats and others with their snouts in the trough) had and have a vested interest in the status quo. As such they sabotaged and worked counter self-determination (instead of promoting and assisting it) and set it up for failure.
    That self-determination had its successes is a testament to those resilient and wise Aboriginal leaders who fought against the propaganda assault which has led to many buying into the perception that self-determination was a policy destined to failure.
    Now we’re pussifooting about whether Aboriginal should have a voice to Parliament.
    They had a voice, just that no one listened.
    (Sorry for the generalisations.)

  11. @ Ralph Folds. Are you not conflating self determination with the homelands movement, Ralph?
    Self determination was almost a decade later and focussed on CDEP as a means of providing a wage for things like rubbish collection, hygiene and limited maintenance.
    Essential services like health and education were provided by government in places like Kintore where I worked for a short time in 1981.
    It may have worked for a period in some communities (too many differences to lump them all together, while interspersed with other policy scraps), but it seemed to fall over, often due to staffing, frustrations with lack of recognition, overlap between layers of government and was an option for the era in which it operated.
    Water resources were problematic in some communities and remain so. The point being that the success or failure of self determination as a policy is open to further analysis and comment.
    I believe that it’s fair to say that it was of very limited success and am willing to stand corrected.

  12. Thanks Bob. It would I think, be a great help if some additional information were available from government as to just what is intended with respect to this new body, particularly as it involves a Constitutional change.
    As I have asked, will it be superior to ATSC, or will it be an underperforming organisation, our nation is effectively unable to change? Indeed, does government have a successful track record at all in this area?
    I have far less confidence in providing the Federal government with a blank cheque. I don’t think any of us want to see things going back to “the start”. However, given such a substantial change to the Constitution there is a need surely, to understand whether this is the best way to proceed.
    Many respected commentators argue that the changes suggested by the Prime Minister are far from clear, from a legal perspective, and may cause further disruption and dislocation to both Aboriginal and Non- Aboriginal peoples.
    I remain unconvinced as to whether the real concerns of Aboriginal peoples in rural and remote communities have been heard and understood. If not, then this will be where the true problems and “insults” will lie.

  13. Thanks Ralph. Good to hear of some positive outcomes. However, unfortunately these would seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

  14. @ Don Fuller: While I agree with your comments on ATSIC there is more to the story.
    I recall a puzzled ATSIC representative calling into the remote school where I worked to say that she had driven around the community three times but could not see the new clinic that ATSIC had funded.
    In place of the new clinic, relatively palatial houses had been built for “health professionals”.
    The clinic was hopelessly cramped, impossible to maintain hygiene in and had no facility for separate men and women’s treatment. Men rarely attended the clinic.
    The ASTIC rep was visibly distressed.
    I hope this provides a more balanced insight into the failings of ATSIC.

  15. Some very learned comments from whitefellas who, like me, have had vast practical experience working alongside traditional First Australians.
    It’s sad to realise that nobody of consequence is going to listen to any of us.
    I have recently self-published a book KULILKATIMA: Seeking Understanding.
    I was advised by publishers that I was wasting my time and money as “nobody wants to hear the opinion(s) of an old white paternalist”.
    I nonetheless went ahead, as I was hearing such arrant nonsense in present debates around The Statement from the Heart.
    I was wary about the gathering at Uluru from the start. Governments in Australia since Governor Macquarie have been playing the same trick over and over again. Put on a free bunfight and invite the blackfellas: Fares, 5 star tucker and accommodation, hefty per diem allowances.
    They will joyfully participate, dance and sing and predictably issue a set of demands.
    The government will thereby see where they are coming from, read the demands, then straight into the WPB.
    Look how quickly Turnbull, Joyce and Co rejected the various proposals. The Albanese government says it will do better, but everyone is guided by emotion rather than reality and the various proposals are “under consideration”.
    The reality is that in the privacy of the ballot box 97% of the population is never going to authorise specific power for 3%, let alone endorse the immense financial payout Aboriginal activists will demand.
    But an elected, bullet proof Academy of First Australians could be established legislatively in Federal parliament this year. To call it a “Voice to Parliament”, however, is the kiss of death.
    And let’s forget treaties altogether. They are drawn up by winners to make losers feel a bit better.
    And definitely let’s stop using the inappropriate term “Makarrata”. People invariably mispronounce the word as Mack a Rata cf., Mack the Knife.
    I am one of only a few white fellas who have seen an actual Makarrta (note spelling) which translates as “a spear in the thigh”: Makarr = thigh.
    The last one I saw in 1957 led to five years of brutal, repeated paybacks.
    The major objection though is that treaties prescribing future outcomes are not the way to go.
    I know so many learned Maoris who say that Waitangi was the worst event in their history.

  16. Interesting Ralph. I could tell many similar stories involving ATSIC’s predecessors and successors, but won’t. Just one will do: The time a health department (?) residence was installed in Yuendumu which was meant to go to neighbouring Yuelamu (Mt Allan).
    The residence is still here. The mistake was fixed on paper.

  17. @ Ted Egan: “It’s sad to realise that nobody of consequence is going to listen to any of us,” is the chilling mantra that we glibly pass over.
    I wrote recently in these pages that I didn’t think there was any political solution to the social problems facing Alice, but just maybe, there was a community one.
    The same problems are being faced in the UK, North America and Australasia, but here in a small place at the centre of the continent, we raise the issue with a degree of despair.
    Christian churches in the UK have a City Action Network, where various churches pool their resources and share the problems within the individual expertise.
    In Blackall, a local committee saw the “Aged Care steamroller coming” and along the way, they partnered with the Churches of Christ Care.
    Now they have their own community-focussed and directed Aged Care Multi Purpose Centre.
    The unusual feature is that they pooled resources with Meals on Wheels, Home and Community Care, government departments, Federal and State, many of which were initially off-side, wanting to do it the bureaucratic way.
    The point being that pooling community resources works. The old silo-approach seems to have passed its use-by date. Ecumenism is the order of the day.
    My two cents worth.

  18. I have read Dr Don Fullers comment and readers’ comments and personally feel that his opinion is valuable and should be put to our “learned” PM along with a few of the others, especially Ted Eagan’s.
    The constitution should not be changed. Albo, the PM, has little, or should I say no idea of the repercussions it will have on all Australians.
    Let us hope that commonsense prevails and this touch of lunacy is no more than a temporary mid-life identity crisis of the poor misguided individual.

  19. The Commonwealth government’s proposed referenda is to support ongoing government(s) legislative practices which divide Australians using racial testing.
    The 1967 referenda was when Australians voted to extinguish legislative claims by government(s) which divided Australian’s legal rights and legal responsibilities using racial division.
    The proposed referenda of the Commonwealth is clearly to promote ongoing racial divisions.
    Our legal rights and legal responsibilities are as Australians, no more, no less.

  20. Just a little about ATSIC. Yes it was abolished in 2004 under the Howard LNP Government. However, Howard never proceeded until after the Labor Party had agreed. Effectively it was a joint decision. As for the funding that ATSIC had control of, there was much discussion about what to do with that. In the end, the funds were transferred to various line departments for distribution.
    As for the Voice, one has to only see that the purpose as written for ATSIC was almost identical as the three points for the Voice.
    The Voice is a resurrection of ATSIC only this time enshrined in the Constitution subject to such referendum passing.
    As there are no guidelines, no processes, no funding, no administrative concepts formulated for the operation of the Voice, and will not be until the Labor Party sets them post a successful referendum, one has to ask, why would anyone allow politicians formulate something they have never been able to successfully formulate historically but this time have no method of dismantling if it doesn’t work?
    At my last count, there are over 65 current State and Federal organisations, all existing to benefit First Nations peoples.
    The funding for these is enormous and I cannot find any KPIs for them, nor any way of measuring their success. They just seem to carry on in perpetuity. While at the same time, pretty much everyone says the gap has not closed despite these organisations and money spent.
    So why not? Some say the organisations exist to provide a few jobs, well paid etc for administrators. I do not know. But like most government initiated organisations they end up being bureaucratic, over funded, not measured in terns of achievements until a crisis arises and a Senate hearing is called. No, we do not need another one that has not been thought through, discussed and already had its systems and processes formulated and certainly not one that cannot be controlled, adjusted, changed etc as required.
    Frankly, Albanese et al should know better and I suspect they do. But my guess is that he would like to see this get up on his watch so he can bask in such an accomplishment.

  21. Constitutional Crash Course: Section 51 limits the Federal Government as to what they can make laws on. Apart from Medicare you will note education, health, hospitals etc are state responsibilities.
    Federal governments can only override state legislation under section 109 if a state law is inconsistent with Federal law and only to the extent of that inconsistency. This can only happen if the power to make a law federally is found under the constitution.
    The constitution is not a static document but open to interpretation by the High Court (an unelected body).
    This is how in the Tasmanian dams case using an expansion of the the foreign affairs power due to High Court interpretation allowed the Federal Government to impinge on state sovereignty and stop the building of the Franklin River Dam.
    Note that any Federal laws arising from a proposed Voice under the Constitution will be restricted UNLESS it is written to allow for an an expansion of power under the Constitution, particularly given the areas of education and health are currently state responsibilities as is mining.
    Currently Indigenous advisory bodies have more lobbying clout given they have none of the restrictions that would be created under a constitutionally enshrined Voice.
    If the YES vote gets up the last vestiges of state sovereignty will be gone. Why does this matter? Well try bargaining for better GST returns, grants etc without any state powers.
    If there is no risk to State sovereignty the Voice will be less effective than advisory bodies now. If it is to be effective it represents a fundamental profound change of our Constitution and federalism as we know it.
    There is NO DETAIL.
    NO DETAIL NO VOTE.
    HANDS OFF OUR CONSTITUTION.
    VOTE ON FACTS NOT EMOTION.

  22. I recently witnessed a housing repair programme in progress in a remote community.
    The contractor had to repair 30 something houses at our expense while many of the men and their families sat around watching.
    Where is the incentive for Indigenous people to add to their own welfare or pride?
    We have induced them to be dependent on government for their own well being and the question needs to be asked for whose benefit?
    In the case of ATSIC there are many questions remaining. In another incident from a man who spent many years working remotely over a long period, who had to repeatedly refill the overhead tank because the community pump and motor failed, because it ran out of oil – no one bothered to check it.
    After three tank refills, subsequent investigation revealed that they consistently ran out of water because no one bothered to turn off the taps.
    These are the practicalities of dependence on government to do what the communities could be doing for themselves, but have never been encouraged to.
    An enshrined Voice will simply perpetuate and legalise this dependency and not have any long term benefit to anyone, most of all to the Indigenous people themselves.
    One only has to spend time in the waiting area at the hospital (which does on amazing job) to see the number of vehicles often with one person, and labelled from Indigenous organisations, being used as taxis to see the extent of the reliance problem. I suspect that this also applies to RFDS.

  23. Trevor, You say: “An enshrined Voice will simply perpetuate and legalise this dependency.”
    This is illogical.
    The “dependency” was to a large extent forced on people by the intervention.
    The Voice will give Aboriginal people a say.
    And I’m sure they won’t be saying “dependency”.

  24. Hi All. The operational matters for the proposed Voice was for the Constitution to determine.
    That was left to Parliament, had the Referendum succeeded. This is quite clear in the proposed amendment 129(iii) which said: “The Parliament shall, subject to the Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, powers, functions, and procedures.”
    The Voice design principles were available and updated prior to the Referendum and available on these links below, which should dispel concerns that the Voice would have just another layer of bureaucracy like those that had failed before including ATSIC that had been disbanded in the Howard era.
    The Voice would not be like any other previous or current bureaucracy. All others including ATSIC disbanded by Howard in 2004 were agencies of the Government.
    The Voice was to be an independent entity with a framework that permitted a bottom-up collaborative dialogue between that body Parliament and the Executive Government.
    Research has shown that where the approach is bottom up instead of top down, and if there is a true collaborative partnership, better policies and legislation are formulated.
    The Voice would have had no powers of veto or power to hamper the normal functions of Parliament or the Executive Government.
    It provided the opportunity of a coordinated communication conduit to gather the views of diverse Indigenous cultures and convey the needs and wishes to Parliament and the Executive Government.
    The Voice was a modest and reasonable proposal that would have been unique in its design.

  25. Don Fuller and Trevor Shiell, see my earlier post. The Voice body would have conveyed the views of diverse communities in remote, regional and urban settings. See my comment 17/11/23 to Frank Baarda article 20/4/23.
    Frank Baarda article re Jacinta Price: The Voice proposal was not divisive or race-based but relied on indigeneity and 65,000 years of continuous civilisation and culture, embracing inclusiveness acceptance and healing. The Race Card was played by the disinformation campaign.
    In 1978, Federal Cabinet adopted a widely accepted as the Commonwealth Definition which states that: “An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives” [Endnote 1]. The three components of the Commonwealth definition are: 1. descent, 2. self-identification”. Source ABS Indigenous Standard.
    Treaty or Reparation which were being addressed at state and territory level. But if such issues were raised that would have been a matter of negotiation, not demand.
    Scaremongering tactics were used to plant doubts and irrelevant matters in the minds of voters. Non-Indigenous people would not have been impacted by the Voice but it would have made such a difference to healing and acceptance with a moral imperative to consider matters brought before Parliament and the Executive Government. Parliament would have had no obligation to any request.
    Former High Court Judge Kenneth Hayne, of the Constitutional Expert Group said that the Voice would not provide First Nations peoples special rights, pointing out that the First Nations Voice “will not give First Nations Peoples special rights”.
    The Constitution provides to everyone a guarantee of the Implied Right to Political Communication. However accessibility to such rights is compromised.
    [ED – It is noteworthy that in the ABS process the third criterion, namely community acceptance, is not taken into account: “Operational definition: The ABS Standard Indigenous Question is based upon the Commonwealth working definition but does not include the third element of the Commonwealth definition, namely that ‘an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person who is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives’. Collecting information on the basis of community acceptance is often impractical in a survey or administrative data collection setting and can lead to inaccuracies. For these reasons, it is not included in the ABS Standard [Endnote 2]. The definition of Indigenous Status is therefore operationalised as whether or not a person identifies as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin’.”

  26. Reply to Editor. Thank you so much Erwin for that clarification on the Indigenous Status Standard in operational terms.
    As an active participant in the Yes23 Campaign I was concerned about how the issues of “Aboriginal status” was raised by doubters as well as in posts to articles. In any case Torres Strait Islanders were included in the failed Voice proposal.
    PS: See ABS Indigenous Status Standard referred to in post in moderation sent 11.50 pm 18/11/23.

  27. @ ED: You make an important point.
    Very different in the USA where tribes police their own membership and reject “pretendians”, people with a weak claim and whose primary aim is to get the benefits of being an Indian.
    Tribes determine their own membership by either a blood quantum minimum or lineal descent system. That varies from tribe to tribe. The Navajo Nation requires a minimum of 25% “Navajo blood.”
    Blood quantum minimums restrict who can be a citizen of a tribe. If you’ve got 25% of Navajo blood and you have children with a non-Indian or someone with a lower blood quantum, your children cannot be registered as tribal members.
    To establish your own blood quantum you have to be descended from a Native American base roll established in the early 20th century, listing the members of the tribe at that time. Your first challenge will be to prove direct lineal descent from someone listed on that base roll.
    Then you must prove that you have the required level of blood quantum – the percentage of your genetic make-up that is native by bloodline.
    There are often other strict conditions for membership as well: such as tribal residency or continued contact with the tribe.
    To apply for tribal membership, you have to get a CDIB (Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood) card issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
    Tribes exercise a sovereign right to determine their own membership.

  28. Hi Ralph and Editor Erwin (Chlanda): Ralph you have raised some fascinating points about cultural norms within the US system within Indian American communities (Red Indian) to determine whether the lineage line is strong enough to claim the label of Indian.
    Erwin: I appreciated your clarification on interpretation of the ABS Standard to which I referred to in my post. I cannot help wondering if part of the reasons some people or groups have made so much fuss about true indigineity is a suppressed level of racism. In Australian law and policy there is no pedantic distinction as long as a person identifies as being of “Indigenous Status.”
    We need to be more inclusive and accepting rather than judgemental and nit-picking. There are merits in identifying indigenous status for the purpose of examining health indices such as susceptibility to certain diseases. For example, there is a high incidence of rheumatic fever and heart disease in our First Peoples.

  29. @ Madeleine Kingston: The Navaho tribe discriminates against those who claim Indian heritage but do not meet the strict conditions to be registered as Indians and be entitled to the many benefits available to them.
    Their perspective is that the benefits to tribal members should not be diluted by a rapid expansion of registered Indians with a weak claim and who are not necessarily disadvantaged.
    They are avoiding a problem that is looming for Australian Aboriginal people.
    The Aboriginal population is growing at least twice as fast as the total population. This is not so much because more people are claiming Aboriginal heritage but through the birth of children who are Aboriginal because one or both of their parents are.
    This rapid expansion of the Aboriginal cohort compared with other Australians will limit the Closing the Gap benefits to individuals and families unless Governments keep increasing funding.
    I expect that means testing will have to be introduced at some point in the future.

  30. Ralph, thanks so much for clarifying. Entitlement to welfare payments for the broader population is means tested and often those considered above the threshold are just marginally so and still struggle to meet cost of living including payment of bills for food, fungible essential goods, and rent, assuming that they actually have a roof of any kind over their heads.
    The Australian Council for Social Services (ACOSS) regularly argues for the harshness of cut-off thresholds and the peculiar disadvantage suffered by those meeting the threshold or barely above it.
    The Productivity Commission’s Closing the Gap Draft Report prioritised such as housing, health, education, job skilling and assistance with transition into the workforce. In December 2022, Pat Turner AM, Lead Convenor of the Coalition of Peaks emphasised in the Commonwealth Closing the Gap Implementation Plan 2023 that a renewed focus must be placed on structural reform to embed ATSI people as partners in decision making.

  31. Measuring the incidences of rheumatic fever, heart disease, diabetes and so many other health issues do NOT need racial tags. Everyone needs be identified by their health issues with clear explanations of their health issues.

  32. @ Madeleine Kingston: Yes many people make a fuss about true indigeneity but this is not suppressed racism.
    There are many disadvantaged Australians living in poor circumstances including a growing number who are homeless even though they are employed.
    While most Australians support closing the gap they question why funds should go to those where there is no gap.
    For example, the recent grant of funding for tertiary education places to all Aboriginal applicants will not benefit many here in the NT where poor educational outcomes preclude most from university entrance.
    This benefit will mostly flow to Aboriginal applicants who have suffered no disadvantage in education at all.
    Statistically this will help to close the gap by producing more qualified Aboriginal people while not really closing the gap at all.
    Funding Aboriginal people who have no disadvantage actually creates racism.

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