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Voice about Canberra elites

Why I’m Voting No to The Voice

My decision to campaign for the ‘no’ case in the upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum is not one I have come to lightly. It is rooted in more than ten years of experience working alongside Indigenous communities and local organisations while I was Chief Operating Officer at Minderoo’s GenerationOne, an Indigenous Employment organisation. My ongoing work as a Senator for Western Australia has only strengthened my resolve.

First and foremost, I am completely opposed to any form of constitutional change which gives extra rights to one group of Australians over others.

Equal opportunity is a fundamental Australian value. Any change to the Constitution is a big deal, but this will only divide us and will fail to deliver the outcomes vulnerable Indigenous Australians desperately need.

I acknowledge and treasure the enduring connection Indigenous people have with Australia and remain committed to doing my utmost to empower them to address the challenges faced across the country.

The Voice to Parliament would enshrine a body with a Constitutional right to advise Parliament and the Executive Government on “matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”. This is clearly all matters and will have a say over anything and everything.

No other group of Australians are afforded this extra level of representation. Nor should they.

Instead of one Parliament and one vote, we would have a race-based citizenship system with the Voice possessing nebulous powers that may very well expand under an activist judiciary and believing itself to have a mandate to advise on every administrative decision of Government.

This is not the Australian way.

The proposed Voice will create inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians when we should be focusing on actual grassroots outcomes.

Proponents of a constitutional Voice state it will bring about change and improve the lives of Indigenous people.  I don’t doubt the sincerity of their belief, but if the Voice is the answer, its success should be measured by its eventual redundancy.  Enshrining the Voice in the Constitution says the disparity will always exist.  This is not something I want future generations of Indigenous Australians to contend with.

That’s why the Liberal Party is championing a grassroots model prioritising local people and local organisations.

Nothing is stopping the government from beginning this work today – to ensure Indigenous Australians enjoy the same quality of life as other Australians.

You don’t need to hold a referendum to listen to local communities.

Legislation isn’t necessary for the government to consult Indigenous communities and find out what they need.  However, if it proved essential, I’d have no issue supporting sensible legislation through Parliament.

Aside from my concerns regarding Constitutional enshrinement, the Prime Minister’s Canberra version of the Voice is a top-down approach. It’s destined to become nothing more than an additional layer of federal bureaucracy with powers meeting or exceeding those possessed by the democratically elected Parliament.

When I was with GenerationOne, we worked with then Prime Minister the Hon Tony Abbott and Indigenous Affairs Minister the Hon Nigel Scullion to establish a network of 29 Vocational Training and Employment Centres (VTEC) across Australia.  One hallmark of this model was local Indigenous owned and run training providers being contracted to deliver the program.  This ground-up model delivered significantly better employment outcomes.  Average employment retention rates across comparable programs were 27%, yet VTECs were achieving 75% or more – meaning 3 out of 4 job seekers were still in a job six months later.  Not only did this deliver a tangible benefit to long-term unemployed and their families, but it also saved taxpayers by keeping people off welfare.

Locals always know their communities best. They know what programs will work and should have a say in how they are delivered.

Take the Cashless Debit Card. Many of the original trial sites who saw the card abolished by the Albanese Labor Government are now crying out for it to be brought back. These include many towns across the Goldfields and Kimberley regions in my home state of Western Australia. The Albanese Government has set these communities back immeasurably. Locals know this.

In the Kimberley, kids who perpetrate crimes are shipped off to Banksia Hill Detention Centre in Perth, far from their communities, surrounded by those who teach them further bad behaviour. Instead of perpetuating this cycle of delinquency, their communities are calling for support to help keep their young people on country and in locally delivered programs.

If we take the time to listen to local voices, we hear local solutions which can empower these communities to stand up for themselves.

A Canberra-based Voice, stacked with Canberra-based elites, will be of no assistance to these communities.

If the Voice is successful, its only achievement will be to divide Australians. Let’s get on with empowering local voices instead.

 

Matt O’Sullivan

Senator for Western Australia