My Word | The road to respect and decency

Early polling place, Shepparton
Opinion: A Voice to Parliament might not bring immediate justice and equality for all of Australia’s First Nations people, but it is a careful and significant step on the road to doing so. Photo by Megan Fisher

John Lewis, former editor of the Shepparton News, has written about the Voice to Parliament.

In the natural order of things, everything comes to an end.

And so it is with the Voice to Parliament referendum, which seems to have been with us forever, its arguments, spats and squabbles ebbing and flowing like a turbulent river on which our boat tips and rolls towards the mouth of the sea.

But on October 14, it all comes to an end; the debate will be over, and our boat will bob along happily in calm waters once again. Or will it?

If the result is No, the push for greater representation for Indigenous people will not be over.

It will continue but in a mood of festering resentment.

If the result is Yes, the debate continues on how the Voice will be administered. This argument will be conducted, as it should, in parliament by our elected representatives.

The waters on which this boat has sailed for the past eight months have been calculatingly clouded by those demanding more detail. Parliamentarians and their media shouters who have demanded more detail have done so in the full knowledge that this is not how the Constitution or parliament works.

The Constitution is there to enshrine an idea, not to lay down the nuts and bolts from which the idea is constructed.

How many representatives there will be in the Voice to Parliament, how they will be elected, what constituencies they will represent, what their terms will be — all this will be determined later by the members of both houses.

These are the legal bricks out of which the Voice is built — and they can be later changed, moved or removed entirely by parliament if it so decides.

What cannot be removed is the commitment to a Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

The argument that there is no detail and that, therefore, the whole idea is confusing and dangerous is disingenuous at best and deceitful at worst.

“If you don’t know, vote no” is one of the more shameful political slogans to have been circulated in recent times by the mandarins of party media.

Those who dropped this poison bomb into the water did so with three objectives: to sow fear; to undermine the credibility of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese; and to create a plank for victory in the next Federal Election.

There is plenty of information publicly available about the idea of the Voice. People wanting to find out more can start with the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It explains why the majority of First Nations people want unique representation in parliament, and it runs to one page — not 25 pages, as has been claimed by some with political agendas.

Clearly, the decent slogan should be “If you don’t know — then find out”, for goodness’ sake.

The Uluru statement also shines a light on the murky argument that we are all equally Australian and that a Voice will divide the nation.

When Indigenous Australians die earlier, have more physical and mental health problems, less access to proper health care, employment and education and are incarcerated more often than non-Indigenous Australians, how can we, by any stretch of the imagination, say we are all equal?

The creation of a Voice to Parliament will not see the sky fall in. It’s an advisory body with no legislative powers. It’s not a United Nations takeover or the creation of an apartheid state.

It won’t see people’s backyards being taken away or more demands for financial reparation. The same was said about the 1992 Mabo decision, the 1997 Stolen Generations report, the 2008 National Apology.

These were all steps on the long and winding road to repairing the ugly wounds caused by colonisation.

Unlike the immediate giant leap of treaty demanded by some, the Voice to Parliament is another pragmatic step on that road, which hopefully will lead to a carefully considered future treaty.

It is a significant and positive step, and it’s the decent thing to do.

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