Indigenous Voice debate now recalls controversy before I delivered the national apology

Written by Javed Iqbal

Decision-making would be greatly enhanced by the Voice as an authoritative representative body to inform Canberra of the local reality of local communities. It would be, as the Prime Minister says, an “unwavering source of advice and accountability”, holding politicians’ and bureaucrats’ feet to the fire to ensure better outcomes for communities and the best value for all taxpayers. Canberra’s handful of hard-working Aboriginal MPs cannot represent such diversity, and it is unfair to expect them to.

Second, they call for “more details”. Before the apology, I faced weeks of demands to publish the full text, along with confidential policy advice. There was nothing earth-shattering there. Many just wanted material that they could misrepresent for political effect – standard procedure in Tory politics.

Critics now demanding the government detail how the Vote would work ignore the fact that because of the government’s conservative approach, it is not up to the Labor party to dictate. It is up to successive parliaments to design and refine how the voice makes its recommendations through processes that reach across the party divide. And they will be informed by the extensive 269-page report produced under the notorious radical, Scott Morrison. A more prescriptive referendum is exactly the kind of radical change that conservatives should oppose.

Third, they raise fears that the change is useless or even dangerous. For example, Peter Dutton claimed the week before the apology that it could cost taxpayers billions in compensation, despite this claim having been rejected by John Howard’s own attorney general. This was classic Dutton and only designed to create anxiety and fear.

Abbott’s dystopian vision of a tricameral parliament, activist judges overruling parliament and lawyers lining their pockets is similarly fanciful. Albanese could not be clearer: the vote is “not a third chamber, not a rolling veto, not a blank cheque”. Abbott, like Dutton, misleads the public for political purposes.


Fourth, they claim it will be “divisive.” Critics said the apology would tear the country apart because non-Indigenous Australians, proud of their ancestors’ achievements, would not recognize what those ancestors might have done wrong. The apology actually united Australians rather than dividing them. It was a great opportunity for all of us, regardless of our origins. When it was done, most people wondered what the fuss was about.

The arc of the story as it has been described bends really slowly. But unfortunately for Dutton and Abbott, it will continue to bend because the Australians are fundamentally decent.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is co-chair of the National Apology Foundation.

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Javed Iqbal

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