Unpacking the No Vote: A First Nations Voice to Parliament Deep Dive

First Nations peoples are not a monolith. As much as some pot-stirrers pretend otherwise, nuance and diverse opinions flow through their communities. These folks debate whether Maccas makes the best fries and if NSW should abolish daylight savings. 

It therefore shouldn’t come as a shock that some Indigenous peoples oppose establishing an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. They don’t believe that there should be a new group of First Nations peoples that advise the government on First Nations issues. They don’t want such a group mentioned in Australia’s Constitution.  

Which brings us to Nyunggai Warren Mundine, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Ian Conway, and Bob Liddle. These prominent First Nations folks have combined their forces to oppose an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. They are all members of the No Case Committee and are advocating for a campaign called Recognise a Better Way.  

However, these First Peoples aren’t the only members of the No Case Committee. They are also joined by two Johns: John Anderson and Gary Johns. Anderson was a Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and vehemently opposed same-sex marriage. Johns was a member of the House of Representatives and an advocate for the tobacco industry

What’s more, the No Case Committee has recently received a room full of white, powerful allies. That’s right, on April 5, the Liberal party has decided that it will oppose a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament. It now wouldn’t shocking if some of the opposition collabed up with the likes of Mundine.

So, with all of this in mind, why does the No Case Committee oppose an Indigenous Voice to Parliament? Why is the Liberal party in favour of a “no” vote? And how are Australians reacting to their talking points? 

Let’s jump into the deets right now. 

The Recognise a Better Way Plan

At the heart of it, the No Case Committee doesn’t trust that the Federal Government can create a collective that’ll improve the lives of First Nations peoples. 

“Bureaucracies have been built in the past, and they have all failed miserably,” said Mundine.

“We need to be getting down into Alice Springs and all of the other communities and working there, not working in Canberra.”

This distrust can also be demonstrated in Recognise a Better Way’s three-step proposal to improve the lives of First Nations peoples. 

Instead of establishing a Voice, they are suggesting that:

  1. First Nations peoples are recognised as the original custodians of these lands in a prequel to Australia’s constitution, rather than in the constitution itself. 
  2. The Federal Government creates an all-party committee that assists native-title holders.
  3. The Federal Government provides direct support to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations. Such support would reduce the government’s involvement in dealing with First Nations issues.

However, it’s worth noting that this proposal is still up for debate. Just like the Voice, it deserves to be commented on by First Nations peoples, if these folks so wish.

Australia’s Migrants and Refugees 

The No Case Committee’s proposed prequel to our constitution is very ambitious. Not only would this text recognise the sovereignty of First Nations folks, but it would also reference Australia’s immigrants and refugees

Mundine said that this preamble would detail the stories of the two later groups, reference the circumstances that brought them here, and how they’ve contributed to their communities.  

As Mundine said, “It’s about recognition of all the people who have come to Australia, who have been here first. and how we built this great country of ours.”

However, some immigrant and refugee groups are upset with this proposal. They believd it’s unnecessary and could overshadow the issues First Nations peoples are up against. 

“We never asked for migrants to be recognised in the constitution,” said Mohammad Al-Khafaji, the CEO of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia.

“Trying to wedge migrant communities on the referendum by using that as an argument not only won’t work, but it’s offensive to our community’s intelligence. This is not being done in good faith, and it’s divisive.”

Meanwhile, the CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Kon Karapanagiotidis, felt no differently. 

Karapanagiotidis said, “I would never support trying to parachute migrants and refugees into a really important conversation, where we should be led by First Nations people, about justice, recognition, and what treaty could look like.”

“That shouldn’t be conflated with refugee and migrant issues, I find that disrespectful and cynical.”

The Liberal Party’s Stance

Okay folks, let’s get submerged in some nuance. The Liberal party doesn’t want a national Voice to Parliament becoming a reality. However, they are in favour of creating a series of local and regional Voices

Additionally, they want the Federal Parliament to set these Voices up. This means that they’ll be legislated and not mentioned in Australia’s Constitution. 

Now, this isn’t to say that the Liberal party is opposed to mentioning First Nations folks in our Constitution. In fact, they’re now claiming that they want this. The Liberal party just doesn’t want this vital reference intertwined with a national Voice to Parliament.

Therefore, the Liberal party is taking a different path than the one the No Case Committee’s walking down. However, these two institutions will still be united in opposing a Voice.

When making this announcement, Peter Dutton said, “The Liberal party resolved today to say yes to constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, yes to a local and regional body, so we can get practical outcomes for Indigenous people on the ground, but there was a resounding no to the Prime Minister’s Canberra Voice.”

The Opposition Leader then alleged, “We don’t support the divisive Canberra Voice, but we support an arrangement which recognises Indigenous people in the Constitution and means we can listen to local Voices.”

The No Vote Backlash

Pals, since the Liberals announced that they’ll be opposing a nationalised Voice, things have been going south. This is because they have been critiqued by some First Nations peoples and a few of their key party members.

On April 5, one of the first groups to critique the Liberals was the Uluṟu Dialogue. This group has been one of the biggest advocates for the Voice.

“After 12 years, seven processes, and ten reports, the Liberal Party have made a decision to campaign for a ‘no’ vote,” said Professor Megan Davis, the Co-Chair of Uluṟu Dialogue. “This ignores the majority of First Nations Peoples at the grassroots across the country.”

The proud Cobble Cobble woman continued, “Their decision is a vote for business as usual. It is a vote for the domination of Canberra politicians and Canberra bureaucrats in the lives of grassroots communities. It seeks to entrench the status quo, which is failing our people.”

What’s more, some Liberal party members might agree with Davis’ words. On April 11, Julian Leeser, a Liberal MP, resigned as the Shadow Attorney General and the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians. He did this so he could more easily campaign for a yes vote.

As Leeser said after resigning, “I believe the Voice can help move the dial on Indigenous education, health, housing, safety, and economic advancement.”

“My resignation today as a frontbencher is not about personality, it’s about trying to keep faith with the very chords of belief and belonging that are part of who I am. Keeping faith with the First Peoples of this land who want to have a stake in their own futures.”

However, it needs to be said that Leeser will be in the Liberal party. He still has conservative values.

“As a conservative I believe in strengthening our shared national fabric,” stated Leeser. “We need to find common ground.”

Some other Liberals to criticise the no vote include MP Bridget Archer and senator Andrew Bragg.

Related: A First Nations Voice — What Does That Even Mean?

Related: “History Is Calling, Let’s Get This Done” — It’s Time for an Indigenous Voice in Parliament

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