What (I think) the Voice is all about
A few weeks ago, I had my first and only conversation with an ardent "No" campaigner for the upcoming Australian referendum on the Voice to Parliament. (I guess we really do all live in our own little echo chambers, because all my close friends and family are in the "Yes" camp just like me, and I was genuinely surprised and caught off guard to have bumped into a No guy, especially smack-bang in my home territory of affluent upper-middle-class North Shore Sydney.) When I asked why he'll be voting No, he replied: "Because I'm not racist". Which struck me, ironically, as one of the more racist remarks I've heard in my entire life.
I seldom write purely political pieces. I'm averse to walking into the ring and picking a fight with anyone. And honestly I find not-particularly-political writing on other topics (such as history and tech) to be more fun. Nor do I consider myself to be all that passionate about indigenous affairs – at least, not compared with other progressive causes such as the environment or refugees (maybe because I'm a racist privileged white guy myself!). However, with only five days to go until Australia votes (and with the forecast for said vote looking quite dismal), I thought I'd share my two cents on what, in my humble opinion, the Voice is all about.
I don't know about my fellow Yes advocates, but – call me cynical if you will – personally I have zero expectations of the plight of indigenous Australians actually improving, should the Voice be established. This is not about closing the gap. There are massive issues affecting Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, those issues have festered for a long time, and there's no silver bullet – no establishing of yet another advisory body, no throwing around of yet more money – that will magically or instantly change that. I hope that the Voice does make an inkling of a difference on the ground, but I'd say it'll be an inkling at best.
So then, what is this referendum about? It's about recognising indigenous Australians in the Constitution for the first time ever! (First-ever not racist mention, at least.) It's about adding something to the Constitution that's more than a purely symbolic gesture. It's about doing what indigenous Australians have asked for (yes, read the facts, they have asked for it!). It's about not having yet another decade or three of absolutely no progress being made towards reconciliation. And it's about Australia not being an embarassment to the world (in yet another way).
I'm not going to bother to regurgitate all the assertions of the Yes campaign, nor to try to refute all the vitriol of the No campaign, in this here humble piece (including, among the countless other bits of misinformation, the ridiculous claim that "the Voice is racist"). I just have this simple argument to put to y'all.
A vote for No is a vote for nothing. The Voice is something. It's not something perfect, but it's something, and it's an appropriate something for Australia in 2023, and it's better than nothing. And rather than being afraid of that modest little something (and expressing your fear by way of hostility), the only thing you should actually be afraid of – sure as hell the only thing I'm afraid of – is the shame and disgrace of doing more nothing.