The Politics    Friday, January 20, 2023

Voice memo

By Rachel Withers

Protesters hold placards during an Invasion Day rally in Sydney, January 26, 2022. One says “No pride in genocide”, while another reads “Sovereignty was never ceded”. Image © Bianca De Marchi / AAP Images

Protesters hold placards during an Invasion Day rally in Sydney, January 26, 2022. Image © Bianca De Marchi / AAP ImagesOK

January 26 looks set to be even more divisive than usual, with Invasion Day rallies to march against the voice

Supporters of a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice to parliament have a problem on their hands – and it’s not just that Peter Dutton and co have decided to do all they can to undermine its chances. New reports suggest that next week’s Invasion Day rallies will be calling for treaty to take priority, with many Indigenous organisers saying they will campaign against the voice in the upcoming referendum. It’s unclear what this will mean for attendance at the rallies, or whether there will be alternative events set up for those looking to show their support for the voice proposal. But there’s no doubt that January 26 is set to be an especially divisive day, as the gulf between First Nations peoples who support the voice and those who hold reservations continues to grow. It also presents a dilemma for allies seeking to listen. How can we centre Indigenous voices, while also acknowledging that a consensus position was put forward at Uluru, clearly calling for a constitutionally enshrined voice?

There remains, of course, a contingent of Indigenous people opposed to the voice, some of whom walked out of the Uluru dialogues in 2017, most with far more legitimate reasons than those proffered by the conservative “No” camp. Greens First Nations spokesperson Lidia Thorpe has become the public face of this dissent, using her position to push the government for concrete progress on a treaty. Thorpe’s sister, Meriki Onus, is the organiser of the Melbourne rally, which has adopted a theme of “Treaty before Voice”. (It’s worth noting that First Nations Greens in South Australia have this week come out in favour of the voice, opening the door for South Australia to establish the nation’s first state-based voice.) The Nine papers have today put out a comprehensive report, exploring the many different positions to be found within Indigenous communities, including concerns about sovereignty and confusion over details. It is difficult, the report notes, to determine what percentage of Indigenous Australians are actually in favour of the voice, although the report’s “small but diverse sample” suggests a high level of support, with more than half of those interviewed planning to vote “Yes”.

First Nations Australians were never going to hold one homogenous position on the voice (or anything, for that matter), and it’s important to keep listening to those who oppose the voice in good faith. But it’s also worth remembering that a constitutionally enshrined voice is called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was the result of extensive regional dialogues, culminating in a national convention. The official “Yes” campaign, being led by some big names, is yet to kick off, with both the “Yes” and “No” camps to have formal launches in February. But their present silence is leaving something of a gap, one that opponents – from both the left and the right – will be eager to capitalise on in the coming weeks.

Where does this leave those seeking to show their support for First Nations Australians on January 26? It comes down to who you choose to listen to – a question that all Australians will need to ask themselves again and again this year. It’s clear, however, that this year’s Invasion Day rallies will not be the source of progressive unity they normally are, with a far more complex issue than changing the date at hand.

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


The Politics

Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are seen in the centre of the frame, walking past each other.

The empty centre

From border security to tax, the hollow centrism of the two-party system is destructive to the national interest

Image of Chris Bowen

Spin of omission

What is the point of a ministerial climate update that doesn’t mention our emissions are still rising?

Image of Clare O’Neil speaking and gesturing with an index finger

Do the right thing

It is time for Labor to stop acting like LNP-lite on immigration detention

Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are seen seated opposite each other in Question Time. Albanese is smiling. Dutton has his back turned.

Dirty deals damage democracy

There isn’t much time to stop a bipartisan deal that many believe would entrench the two-party system

From the front page

Photo of Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell outside Parlament House with rescued greyhound Graham

Dog day afternoon

Animal welfare concerns have long plagued the greyhound racing industry, but in Victoria a campaign from covert investigators now has a parliamentarian leading the fight

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Mars attracts

Reviving the Viking mission’s experiments may yet find life as we know it on Mars, but the best outcome would be something truly alien

Close-up photograph of Anne Summers, 2017

How to change a bad law

The campaign to repair the single parenting payment was a model of how research and advocacy can push government to face the cruel effects of a policy and change course

Installation view of the Kandinsky exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, showing three framed abstract paintings hanging on a wall

Kandinsky at AGNSW

The exhibition of the Russian painter’s work at the Art Gallery of NSW provides a fascinating view of 20th-century art’s leap from representation to abstraction