The Beer Whisperer
My first ever referendum was as a bright-eyed and bushy tailed young man, albeit naive. Yet I was sufficiently trained in scepticism by my father to quickly see the distortions from both sides. I consequently read the actual constitutional change, and made up my own mind that it was a trojan horse for any of a host of things unsaid. Yet now, some decades later, the no case doesn’t exist at all, and as such its unofficial representations are readily distorted by the official yes case.
So I did what any diligent, forewarned citizen should do – I read the proposed constitutional wording. And no one has questioned the term used in the proposed constitutional wording – executive government. Immediately, I cottoned on to the implication that it gave The Voice to Parliament access to, well, more than just parliament. It gives access to Cabinet. Cabinet, unlike parliament, is secretive. It is not recorded in Hansard, is not televised, and occurs behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the public.
Yet The Voice to Parliament indeed does have access to it. It’s only recording is in Cabinet minutes, which, again, is not available to the public.
But, as it turns out, executive government is not simply Cabinet. It includes the Prime Minister, so they will have direct access to Albo as well as every other Prime Minister, outside of parliament, and vice versa. It also includes Cabinet and Ministry, the latter of which controls all of the federal government departments. But this isn’t the full extent, not even close. It also gives access to the pubic service/bureaucracy, of which it surely includes department heads, who advise government. The clear implication here is that they will have access, perhaps separately, to both the bureaucracy who advises government, and government itself, potentially playing off each against the other as they see fit. The potential for manipulation has not been fully thought through, to say the least.
Dragging the chain is the King’s representative in Australia, the Governor General. To quote directly from the source, “Whilst the Governor-General is not an elected official and performs a largely ceremonial role, he or she is nevertheless crucial to the operation of Australia’s executive government”. The Governor General of course chairs the Executive Council for starters, among a host of other functions. Would The Voice to Parliament have a seat at this council?
Actually, i’m asking the wrong question. In constitutional legalese, the correct question is “does the constitution disallow the Voice to Parliament having a seat at the Executive Council?” As it turns out, the Executive Council is somewhat anachronistic as it in effect in modern times a rubber stamp, yet each question begets all relevant questions. Has the formal Yes case addresssed such issues as this? Of course not. With so many questions, it makes sense that the Yes case would avoid it for convenience, or, more specifically, avoid such inconveniences.
As repeatedly seen, there is far more to the Voice to Parliament than claimed by the Prime Minister. Rather, the Voice to Parliament is a demonstrable misnomer. It’s quite literally a Voice to far more than simply parliament. It’s a voice to both houses of parliament, the Prime Minister, the Governor General and all minsters and their department heads. Is national security relevant to aboriginal peoples? Why wouldn’t it be? The Voice to Parliament (sic) has access not only to the four defence ministers, but the Department of Defence as well. The primary decision-making committee of the Department of Defence is the Defence Committee, of whose members include the chiefs of each arm of the defence forces, being the army, navy and air force. Will they have a real say or simply be ignored? The Yes case has not offered answers, or indeed sought them, as far as their public communications indicates.
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I doubt it takes a law degree to understand that any appeal to the High Court of Australia requires appellants to demonstrate laws to be in violation of the Constitution. Hence, such assertions that it is merely an advisory body, which is backed by nothing more than thin air, have not been subject to legal testing. Like a certain American legislation, you’ll have to vote YES to find out its limitations, if indeed there are any. A simple “just” or “only” with the missing word “advisory” would restrict members of the High Court from the more adventurous interpretations that appear to be otherwise possible.
Importantly, the Ballot Paper asks a non-binding question to which we are all potentially bound. Worse, its reference to recognition is a demonstrably bald-faced lie. A mere 10% being swayed by a misleading question determined by the current government who drafted and had passed the referendum legislation will likely turn the unlikely Yes vote into a permanent constitutional change with demonstrably uncertain outcomes.
And yet the papa elephant in the room is the use of the term “representations” over the Albanese-asserted “advisory” that simply does not exist. Definitions are representations are likely to be found deep in the bowels of High Court judgements, or perhaps not at all. But what is highly likely is that they will refer to the Uluru statement to try and determine intent.
What did they intend? As the very basis for the referendum change, they would likely ask what the framers of the Uluru statement and indigenous signatories intend when they chose the word representations instead of the outright lie that is perpetrated as mere advice. Call me cynical but i’m not trusting the assertions of lying politicians when our entire system of government and ultimate laws of the land are at stake.And in any case, no one can guarantee intent or predict the High Court forever into perpetuity. AIt’s just another unanswered question apparently covered by the Prime Minister’s “trust us” assertions. Just today Pat Dodson asserted that referendums (sic) are simply about principles, demonstrating a convenient ignorance of law in what appears to be another desperate attempt to persuade people on a falsity. Surely a sound reform would narrow the reform to clear, decisive, focused outcomes not subject to interpretation lest it be misinterpreted and scare the horses as a result?
On that note, conservatism isn’t an ideology, it’s a pragmatic response to potential threats. I do not consider myself conservative, for the simple reason that I favour reform where I think improvement is required. If anything, conservative simply means a higher threshold for change to negate potentially perverse outcomes. With this particular proposed constitutional change, far more questions are raised than answers, and appeals to emotion trigger numerous red flags due to their rhetorical use by politicians with something to hide. And our biggest politician of all, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, has been leading the charge with misrepresentations of the Voice to Parliament (sic). His claim that it is a humble request is in no way supported by the facts. His frequent references to advice has no foundation whatsoever. The sheer carpetbaggery of his assertions are very strong indeed.
There are questions that the average punter hasn’t thought of, yet haven’t been asked, let alone answered. How does this additional chapter affect the separation of powers, if at all? Note that the separation of powers refers to distinct chapters. Another chapter poses questions that are yet to be asked, but may be at any point into the infinite future. What importance is having it’s own chapter as opposed to being placed elsewhere? What weight, if any, would it have? You’ll have to wait for a future High Court bench to tell you. Furthermore, how will the principle of procedural fairness be affected, if at all? Clearly, it is up to proponents to address such concerns as they are the ones asking Australians to make fundamental change to the ultimate laws of our country.
Personally, i support in principle any reform to improve democracy or our access to decision-makers. Indeed, such a reform could become a template for all Australians to have more say in decisions made on our behalf. Yet such reforms have a threshold of certainty to ensure that such reforms do not have unintended outcomes or perverse outcomes. The previous referendum on becoming a republic failed largely on this basis, and hopefully, this referendum will also. Do it once, do it right, but a half-baked change of which the Prime Minister himself admits to not reading it suggests it isn’t being done right. I don’t expect a lifetime politician to get it right, but he is squandering an opportunity to make a change which could plausibly result in improvements, at the ultimate expense of aborigines who have been repeatedly failed by politicians out for cheap and quick frephoto ops.
A casual observation of the model for the Voice to Parliament (sic) reveals many flaws, the least of which is the non-existence of individual aborigines, but also its heniously authoritarian top-down approach. The lack of clarity, misrepresentations and over-simplified assertions potentially belie a purposeful distortion of the truth to mislead the Australian public as to the true nature of the proposed constitutional change.
Dishonesty betrays many intentions; the mere presence substituting effectively for known lies. Indeed, the entire endeavour is brought into question, and for good reason. If and when the government or a future government revisits this scarred proposal, i will try not to be clouded by past misrepresentations, but it will be difficult, and the fault of that will like firmly with the current leadership. Until then, i will defer to the now famous meme of Simon Cowell when faced with an undercooked attempt – it’s a no from me. It will simply elevate privileged voices while drowning out all the rest.