It’s Naidoc Week in Australia, and this year’s theme is: ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together.’ As the locals are no doubt aware, Naidoc was once the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, but the day has been stretched into a week, the ‘Islanders’ are properly ‘Torres Strait Islanders’, and ‘Aborigines’ is now a politically incorrect term, so like most organisations these days Naidoc is known only by its former initials. You just have to know. Or check Wikipedia.
Back when Naidoc was satisfied with a day, it was conceived as a ‘Day of Mourning’, to be contrasted with January 26’s Australia Day, the ‘day of drinking’. January 26 also commemorates the arrival of the first English settlers (well, outcasts might be more accurate) on the continent. Australia Day was later rebranded ‘Invasion Day’, which of course was what it was, seen from a certain perspective. To change the mood, and perhaps to provide some winter cheer, Naidoc Day was moved to July and rebranded a ‘Day of Celebration’. This year’s celebrations focus on demands for an ‘Indigenous Voice’.
Local versions of the reality TV show The Voice are produced in more than 100 countries, including Australia (where it just wrapped up its eighth season), but there is no version of the program devoted exclusively to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. In fact, The Voice seems to have completely ignored indigenous voices, and hopefully Naidoc will call them out on it.
Roughly a million people voted in the Australian edition of The Voice, more than the entire indigenous population of Australia, yet The Voice still does not constitute a third chamber of Parliament. Maybe it should.
But for Naidoc, The Voice is not the voice that matters. The ‘Indigenous Voice’ is a proposed (but undefined) body that will represent the indigenous peoples of Australia to Parliament (but not in Parliament). The only thing we know for sure about the Indigenous Voice is that, no matter what anyone says, it will definitely not constitute a third chamber of parliament, and the only reason we know it won’t is that both the last Prime Minister (Malcolm Turnbull) and the current one (Scott Morrison) said that it would.
Of course, it’s hard to tell just what the Indigenous Voice would be, because its backers refuse to tell us. They prefer that Australia pass a constitutional amendment to create the not-a-third-chamber before they lay out in writing just what it is, or what it will do. Several years of taxpayer-funded ruminations by an Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition, a Referendum Council, and a Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition have produced no concrete proposals.
The only definitive statement of intent has come from the heart, not the mind. The Uluru Statement from the Heart demands ‘the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution’. Its stators want to ‘take a rightful place in our own country’ with ‘power over our destiny’ to bring forward a future ‘based on justice and self-determination’.
Actually, it turns out that a stator is the non-moving part of an electric motor, but you get the idea. The full story goes like this. Once upon a time there was a well-managed and carbon-neutral country drifting peacefully upon the southern oceans. Its 500 nations lived in harmony with nature and with each other. It had no multi-storey buildings or modern sanitation, but its maps accurately displayed the locations of resting places and watering holes, and quite correctly depicted south as ‘up’. All in all, life was good for just about everyone, with the minor exceptions of the young, the old, the weak, the sick, the disabled, most women, and – let’s face it – probably most middle-aged men, too.
Then came the English. In what was certainly one of the great ‘what have the Romans ever done for us?’ moments in world history, the English brought agriculture, building and commerce to the continent that they called Australia. The list has to stop at ‘c’ because the English hadn’t yet embraced democracy. Either that, or the list can continue with disease, enslavement, fraud, and genocide. Take your pick.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart traces problems like violent crime and family dissolution among indigenous Australians today to the arrival of the English on Invasion Day, 1788 – and claims that only an Indigenous Voice to (definitely not in) parliament can solve them. There’s no word on who would pay the salaries of the members of the Indigenous Voice, nor who would fund the programs it demands (ahem, recommends). Sovereignty is expensive, and justice even more so. Perhaps a poll tax on indigenous voters could pay the bills. As we say in America, no representation without taxation.
Or maybe England should pay. If Theresa May could be persuaded to give the European Union £39bn just to be relieved of the responsibility of sending representatives to Brussels, surely Boris Johnson can be pressured to pay for a few dozen – hundred? thousand? no one seems willing to say – indigenous representatives in Canberra. After all, it was England that caused all the trouble in the first place. You can’t very well blame the convicts for being ‘transported’ to Sydney.
Nor can you blame the ‘new Australians’ who arrived long after the continent was ruined. Roughly one-third of the residents of this benighted island were born elsewhere, and entered Australia on valid visas. That may represent an invasion of sorts, but unlike the first invaders, we pay rent. Even more Australians are descended from twentieth-century immigrants. In one of the lesser-read sections of the Ten Commandments, God makes clear that He visits ‘the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation’, but no longer than that. If that sounds reasonable to you, it puts most of the rest of the country in the clear.
So send the bill to Boris. There’s no statute of limitations on genocide, and Australia’s political class likes to blame the English whenever possible. Maybe the Indigenous Voice referendum could be rolled into the Second Republic referendum, and Australia’s royal divorce bill could be used to partially offset England’s genocide reparations. Now if only Labor had won the election…
Salvatore Babones is an associate professor at the University of Sydney and the author of ‘The New Authoritarianism: Trump, Populism, and the Tyranny of Experts’.