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HomeVolume 27Low voter turnout puts need for Voice in doubt

Low voter turnout puts need for Voice in doubt

By ERWIN CHLANDA

Low enrolment and voter turnout by Aboriginal people raise questions about the “Voice to Parliament” referendum now opposed by the Nationals and the CLP Senator for the NT, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price.

Why should there be a new Voice, at taxpayers’ expense, it may well be asked, when the existing ones are not being used?

Only 74.1% of the 53,563 voting-age Indigenous people in the NT are enrolled, the second-lowest figure behind WA (70.5%), according to the Australian Electoral Commission.

The national figure for Aborigines is 81.7%.

A total of 17,228,900 Australian people were enrolled to vote this year which meant that 96.8% of all eligible Australians were enrolled.

In the huge NT seat of Lingiari, all of the Territory except Darwin, the voter turnout was a mere 66.8%, according to the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Research at the Australian National University: This was the lowest of any electorate in the nation, and significantly down from the rate of 72.85% reported for Lingiari in the 2019 federal election.”

That means around half of the voting-age people in that seat, entitled and obliged to vote, didn’t.

Says the ANU centre: “Lingiari has the highest proportion of Indigenous people of any electorate in the country, many of whom live in remote communities.”

The NT’s current “voice” to the national Parliament are four Federal politicians three of whom are Aboriginal.

In a small population such as ours they are easily accessible – go to the Sunday Market and have a yarn.

In addition we have dozens of elected members in the two other levels of government, local councils and Territory, all of which are connected to the Australian government in some way.

There is just one roll: The Northern Territory Electoral Commission (NTEC) uses a joint roll with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). The roll is maintained by the AEC. You only need to complete one form to enrol yourself for all levels of government in the Northern Territory, says the NTEC on its website.

Senator Price (pictured with former PM Malcolm Turnbull) says in a media release: “The Voice will not advance the primary aim of Closing the Gap and dealing with the real issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“The Voice will add another layer of bureaucratic red tape. Crucial questions remain unanswered.

“It will not economically empower Indigenous people. We believe this will be a voice for Redfern, not for Indigenous communities in regional, rural and remote Australia, in places like Cunnamulla, Alice Springs and Carnarvon.”

Activists for the Voice are conflating two issues in a bid to promote their cause but managing little more than making the referendum less likely to be passed.

One is that Aboriginal people are the first inhabitants of Australia – a no-brainer – and that this should be reflected in the Constitution. There appears to be little opposition to that.

The second is the controversial Voice demanded in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

That raises questions: Whose voice would the Parliament hear? And how can it be representative for the dozens of Aboriginal nations throughout the country? Will a new Voice make any difference? And is it necessary?

Theresa Roe, of the NT Aboriginal Peak Organisation, told a hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters last week: “We are concerned about having the lowest voter turnout in the electorate of Lingiari.

“There is no NTEC or AEC office in Central Australia in the seat of Lingiari, which is a big footprint, and we think this is a real concern.

“So I think the AEC and the NTEC need to have some presence down there, not only for the elections but also in the lead-up to the [Voice] referendum.

“It’s really important for that area to have some presence on the ground.”

West Arnhem Regional Council Mayor Matthew Ryan told the committee: I believe the interpreter service was defunded. There’s confusion about how to vote for whom.

“There’s a lack of education, lack of communication and lack of transparency. People are confused.”

The NTEC is making some efforts to facilitate voting in the bush.

Its commissioner, Ian Loganathan, told the commission that since the 2016 election and in the 2020 election, special arrangements have been made: “That provision allows people who are not on the roll, but who are entitled to be on the roll, to complete a declaration vote.

“That vote, obviously, is placed in the declaration envelope and that envelope is checked. If that is a valid enrolment, then that vote is admitted to the count.

“If you look at the last Territory election, 1700 votes were admitted to the count, and over 1000 of those came from remote communities, so I think it certainly makes sense to give people every opportunity to have their vote count.

“We’ve been talking to the AEC in relation to the upcoming Voice referendum,” says Mr Loganathan.

“That would be a very helpful mechanism to ensure that remote Aboriginal people have an opportunity to have a say in a referendum that directly relates to them.”

Apart from the ballot box much can be achieved by lobbying. The tourism industry does it. The Chamber of Commerce does. Their members pay for it.

Aboriginal people have a string of organisations, often vocal, usually Federally funded. And there are the land councils whose job it is to represent their constituents.

In August the News conducted a survey in the Mall. We spoke with 29 Aboriginal people, several of them artists, displaying their work for sale.

Only three had heard about the Uluru Statement and the issues that flowed from it.

FILE IMAGES: Alison Anderson (top) campaigning in 2012 and Senate hopeful Warren H. Williams (above, right) in 2013, with voters.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Senator Price is campaigning against ATSIC. She has not bothered to learn a thing about the proposals for The Voice. Your “survey” should have included questions about what people “know” about Parliament as well. Senator Bonner pleaded that whitefellas listen to Aboriginal people for things that are relevant. The Voice is one step.
    ED: We wrote to Mr Dixon, saying: “ATSIC was abolished in 2005. Is this an ironic comment? If so how should we understand it?”
    Mr Dixon replied: “Yes it was, and Senator Price just talks about how it was set up and has no desire to update her understanding of the details that have been widely shared about setting up the Voice. Ken Wyatt has called her out on this.”

  2. Well written Erwin. I believe it’s about time our local governments and Federal stop giving into the small groups that keep pushing their beliefs on to the rest of society.
    They should seriously concentrate on serious issues concerning ALL AUSTRALIANS.
    I’m fed up with our hard worked taxes being squandered – floods, fires affected communities should come first.
    Also we NEVER hear what CLC and all the other Aboriginal organisations are doing concerning the people that they are meant to be helping especially with these out of control kids and youths in the NT.
    We manage to hear when more of these organisations are buying up property etc.
    It’s not a white man’s problem anymore. Aboriginal people have got to take control and deal with these issues. Jacinta is very much liked and respected.

  3. The proposed Referendum is designed to correct the legal fiction that was used to justify Britain’s occupation of Australia. Terra Nullius – empty country. It is embarrassing.
    Our “low voter turnout” is irrelevant. Even so it is higher than, say, the last four USA elections.
    And it is a direct consequence of the Australian Electoral Commission gutting its capability in the Northern Territory from seventeen to three a few years ago.

  4. It’s little wonder that low Aboriginal voter engagement with the process is evident. For years, Aboriginal communities have been promised much from politicians but rarely delivered outcomes. No wonder they ask “what’s the point of bothering to vote” when they see little evidence of things being achieved with regard to better health, education or social services in their communities and outstations.
    When John Howard was first elected as Prime Minister, one of the first things he did was abolish electoral education programs in the bush. The process can be difficult enough for English as first language speakers let alone third or fourth.
    The CLP Senator betrayed the Territorians she is supposed to represent this week when she voted down Territory Rights legislation. Fortunately, the legislation was passed.

  5. A propos the low voter turnout, an excerpt from the draft of My Yuendumu Story continued:
    The NT has two Federal senate (upper house) lay down misère parliamentary seats. To win both senate seats, a major party needs at least 67% of the vote after distribution of preferences, which just isn’t going to happen.
    The two Federal lower house seats, on the other hand, are held by narrow margins of only a few percent which in the thinly populated NT isn’t a large number of votes, and are hotly contested.
    At the recent election, the ALP (Australian Labor Party) narrowly won the two lower house seats. Three out of the four NT seats went to First Nations women. One third of Aborigines entitled to vote, didn’t.
    Allegations that this resulted from deliberate tactics by the conservatives have been raised and an enquiry is being called for.
    The fact that both major parties have disillusioned Aboriginal voters, and to them it doesn’t seem to make much difference who they vote for, isn’t perceived as the probable cause for the low remote voter turnout.
    I canvassed some Yapa and many told me they hadn’t bothered to vote.
    None of them complained of having been denied a vote, nor did the participation by Indigenous candidates appear to have diminished their disinterest.
    The disillusionment isn’t confined to Yapa, more recently a by-election was held for the NT Legislative Assembly urban Darwin seat of Fannie Bay which has a majority of Kardiya constituents.
    The two major party candidates were an ex-defence veteran and an ex-NT police officer and the main focus of their campaigns was on “tough on crime” (an euphemism for the suppression and control of Aboriginal youth).
    The Labor Party narrowly retained the seat. The voter turnout was 68%. One third of the electorate didn’t vote.
    Reminds me of a quote by that prolific writer A. Nonymous:
    “No matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in.”

  6. G’Day Erwin,
    @ Peter is spot on. Price is babbling about layers of bureaucracy like ATSIC etc. It is not relevant.
    @ Bob and Phil are both correct. The conservatives have done everything they can to diminish the Aboriginal vote in the NT.
    And @ Frank is astute as ever, although I think the quote is: “Whoever you vote for a politician always gets in.”
    As for political literacy, I vividly recall while scrutineering in a booth in East Side years ago, a distressed white woman “wanting to vote for John Howard” and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t on the ballot paper.
    I remind readers that Price was, to quote from her website “the Indigenous program director at the Centre for Independent Studies”
    The CIS is a very misleading title. More correct would be a far right wing propaganda outfit.
    Interestingly the only other notable Aborigine to speak out against the Voice is Warren Mundine, who is married to the daughter of Gerard Henderson who runs the Sydney Institute, another far right wing propaganda outfit.
    One wonders how these vox pops [mentioned in the story] that reported little knowledge of the proposed Voice and Referendum were carried out.
    Were they asked in a context that made it easy for the interviewee to understand, and translated if necessary?
    I doubt it.
    Charlie Carter

  7. [ED – Yes, they were, Charlie. I did the survey. I conducted it in English, as is the bulk of the Voice discussion around the nation. I did not count responses when my question was clearly not understood. I did count replies such as: “Voice? Uluru Statement from the Heart? What are you taking about?” That was the point of the survey: Gauging the level of awareness.
    All the best, Erwin, Editor]

  8. Erwin, I wasn’t referring to your survey in particular, but it has been a recurrent theme in anti-voice comments in the last couple of weeks.
    I’m sure you did your best, but equally I’m sure you would not claim your survey to be a statistically random poll.
    For example, I suspect that your interviews would have been carried out during the daytime, and therefore would have missed the hundreds (or thousands) of Aboriginal people in Alice who would have been at work.

  9. Hi Charlie, thanks for your comment. I conducted the survey at the Todd Mall Market on August 14. As that was a Sunday we can expect at least some of the “hundreds or thousands” of Aboriginal workers in Alice would have had the day off.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  10. To me, voting yes simply perpetuates a system where there has been significant wastage of money in duplicated services and an encouragement of Indigenous people to overly rely on government and government money to do many things they could easily do themselves.
    I recall a TV program featuring Ray Martin, as TV presenter where a group of city women went to an Arnhemland Community and the woman with a filthy kitchen thought it was right that the government build her a new house rather than she clean the kitchen.
    WE have encouraged this expectation rather than an expectation that when things wear out or break they will at least attempt to care themselves for property.
    I would love government to come and fix my blocked septic outflow but I can’t get a plumber to do it because they appear to all be out bush working on communities and paid by government.
    I know of one case where government refilled overhead tanks three times in a week because the inhabitants left the taps open.
    In addition, no one bothered to check the oil in the motor that ran the pump. It obviously seized. Hence no water in the first place. Three months for an electrician?

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