Originally published in the West Australian
Race-based division has no place in this nation In voting No to this divisive Voice, we’re really saying Yes to constitutional equality and national unity. Everyone wants Aboriginal people to do well and most of us would be happy to see an acknowledgement of Aboriginal people in the Constitution. But the Voice proposal is fundamentally undemocratic and illiberal because it would give some people more say over how our country runs based on their ancestry. As Bob Hawke famously said on the occasion of our bicentenary, Australia is a country with “no hierarchy of descent” and “no privilege of origin”.
For a very long time now, our country has flourished on the basis that anyone could come here from anywhere and become a first-class citizen. The idea that people should have a special political status based on how long some of their ancestors have been here is profoundly at odds with the great ideal which has made Australia so attractive to generations of newcomers. Of course, the First Australians deserve respect and a good hearing, which is exactly what they’ve had in recent times, especially since the 1967 referendum which was about equality, unlike this one.
It’s good that there are now 11 individual Indigenous voices in the national Parliament and a credit to the colour-blind quality of modern Australia, surely about the least racist country on earth, that they’ve got there on their own merits because political parties have chosen them and an electorate has voted for them in the normal way. Of course, Aboriginal people have a right to be proud of their cultural heritage and our country has a duty to preserve as much of it as we can; but in the end, our calling is to be Australian, first and foremost, proud citizens of a country with an Indigenous heritage, a British foundation, and an immigrant character.
Like our leaders in this campaign to keep our Constitution colour-blind, Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine, the way forward is to acknowledge and accept all the diverse elements that make us who we are and that make Australia such a wonderful place to live and such a magnet to people from all over the world. As leaders such as Sir Robert Menzies and John Howard were accustomed to point out, the things that unite us as Australians should always be more important than anything that divides us. The way to tackle deprivation is not to entrench separatism in the Constitution; or to rail against a history that can’t be changed and, in any event, has more in it to applaud than to regret, but to redouble our efforts to change the things that blight individual lives, regardless of race or culture: namely poor education, unemployment, and confinement to places with no real economic base.
Regrettably, for some decades now, much policy has been counterproductive because it’s been based on stressing difference rather than creating opportunity. It’s this that really needs to change. Individuals must always be free to make the most of their own lives, in their own way; but at the institutional level, it’s our Australian identity that should always be reinforced. Because Voice advocates have been (falsely) pitching it as the only chance for Indigenous recognition, many people will be disappointed if it fails. But it’s better to risk a few bad days than a serious constitutional mistake. Voting No is by far the best way to ensure that Australians go forward together as one equal people.