‘Biggest danger’ named, as Indigenous Voice bill passes Parliament

Parliament has passed legislation to authorise a referendum on recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution and to enshrine the permanent advisory body known as the Voice. 

A vote on the Constitutional Alteration Bill passed the Senate 52-19 to applause and a standing ovation from the public galleries in the Senate on Monday. 

“It’s on,” Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said. 

“Today, the political debate ends. Today, we can start a national conversation at the community level about what a Voice is, why it’s needed, and how it will make a practical difference.

“For too long, Indigenous Australians have been consistently worse off than non-Indigenous Australians. 

“It’s a broken system. And the Voice is our best shot at fixing it.”

‘I’m your weapon’

The referendum will be the first since 1999, when voters declined to make Australia a republic.

There is a significant variance in recently published polling on support for the Indigenous Voice, ranging from 49 to 60 per cent of Australians.

The referendum must win support from a majority of voters nationally and be carried across a majority of states to succeed. 

“Getting constitutional change in Australia is a difficult thing to do,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said. “We know that from history.

“Now it is up to the Australian people. Everyone has one vote.”

Support for referendums has historically worn down in previous decades. But the Voice is the first referendum in the era of social media. 

In April, the ‘No’ campaign ran its first TV ads in regional areas.

The frontwoman for those ads, Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, wrote to supporters of Fair Australia, a branch of the ‘No’ campaign, on Monday arguing that “elites” were pushing the Voice and that it would “ruin” Australia. 

“I’m your weapon in this referendum,” she wrote in a pitch for donations. “When I get louder, you get louder.”

While the ‘Yes’ campaign has received endorsements from across business groups, sporting codes and civil society, it has yet to begin airing advertisements.  

Voice legislation passes Senate

Fiery debate

Debate on the Voice bill drew opposition and sometimes inflammatory rhetoric from opposite poles of the political spectrum. 

Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe, who quit the Greens over their support for the Voice, was ordered to wear a jacket to conceal a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “gammin”, a slang term meaning ‘fake’.

“Happy assimilation day, nail in the coffin,” Senator Thorpe interjected as the vote was pronounced as carried. 

Senator Pauline Hanson endorsed the past removal of Indigenous children from their families – the Stolen Generations – and said the Voice was a form of privilege. 

“What about my connection with this land?” she said. 

The Greens’ First Nations spokesperson Dorinda Cox called the bill’s passage “a truly historic day for First Peoples and, in fact, for all of us.”

“Can I say how incredibly proud I am to be able to stand and speak for the Voice and the importance of being able to go to a referendum and say ‘Yes’ for our country,” Assistant Indigenous Minister Malarndirri McCarthy said.

Liberals, including Dean Smith, Claire Chandler and James McGrath, voted against the bill, and will work on the official pamphlet for the ‘No’ case.

Liberal Julian Leeser, the former shadow attorney-general who quit the frontbench over his support for the referendum, rebel MP Bridget Archer and former ACT chief minister Kate Carnell spoke in favour of the referendum.

Jacinta Price fronts 'No' campaign ad

Source: YouTube/Fair Australia

Biggest danger

Mr Leeser said fellow NSW Liberals, including former state treasurer Matt Kean and former premier Mike Baird backed the referendum. 

“I suspect we will have more members of Parliament,” he said.

“It’s the status quo that is the biggest danger here. In most referenda, you try and argue if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But the system’s broken.

“[It’s] a system which sees Aboriginal people two-and-a-half times more likely to die by suicide than the rest of the population; which sees them nine times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population, which sees an Aboriginal young man more likely to go to jail than to go to university. 

“We’ve got this gap that hasn’t closed despite goodwill and money: Consulting people about the policies and laws that affect them in a formal way, I think, will help.”

The government must hold the referendum within two to six months; it will occur between October and December, most likely earlier. 

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