the Voice recognition

Recognition is a ‘No-Brainer’; But the Voice is Just a Deception

11 October 2023

5.4 MINS

by Tony Abbott AC

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott AC was the supporting speaker to Nyunggai Warren Mundine at an event in Rowville in Melbourne on Monday, August 7, 2023.

The following are the remarks he made at that event.

News Weekly decided to publish this address on the cusp of the referendum for the Voice to Parliament as a reminder that there are perfectly good reasons to vote “No” to the Voice while retaining the desire to “close the gap” for those Aboriginal communities, often remote, that do not yet enjoy the advantages that accrue to the rest of the Australian population, including their own Indigenous brothers and sisters who already do enjoy those advantages.

As Prime Minister, in 2014, and again in 2015, Tony Abbott spent a week running the Australian government from a remote Indigenous community.

The Voice is asking us to decide if some people have privilege of origin and is asking us to establish a hierarchy of dissent. What we need is the country we have become over the last 140 years – the least racist and the most colour-blind country on earth.

I reckon over the last 60-odd years, I’ve got to know this country pretty well. We are a country which wants to give everyone a fair go. Particularly we want to give a fair go to all our people. We welcome everyone and don’t judge them for their race or their gender, by their sexuality or their religion. If you’re prepared to have a go, well, as far as we’re concerned, you are a first-class Australian. You are part of our team. That’s the Australia I know and love.

So, my problem with the Voice as proposed, is that it does inject race into our Constitution. It does entrench the separatism, which I think is such a big part of Aboriginal disadvantage in this country. And it does make the whole business of government even more gummed up than it already is.

Now we’ll hear a lot between now and referendum day (Saturday October 14), and as things get more and more intense, the argument will be heard again and again and again that it is somehow racist to vote “No”.

Well, one of the reasons why I am so pleased to be here with the wonderful Warren Mundine is because there is no one who is prouder of his Indigenous heritage. Like just every Australian, including every Indigenous Australian, we have quite a bit of heritage; and it’s not just the Indigenous heritage, it’s not just the British heritage. It’s not just the migrant heritage, it’s not just the Christian heritage, or the Muslim heritage, or the Jewish heritage, or the Hindu heritage, or the Buddhist. This all goes into making us the great country and the great people that we are, and I reckon all of it should be cherished. Not just some of it.

On the Ground

Now, when I went into Parliament all those years ago, I decided that I didn’t know nearly enough about Indigenous Australia. So, back in 1994 and 1995, as a humble backbencher, I spent a week in and around Alice Springs trying to get to know better that part of Australia as someone who grew up mostly on the North Shore of Sydney. I spent a bit of time with Charlie Perkins, I spent a bit of time with Pastor Paul Albrecht, who was one of the pioneers of the Hermannsburg mission.

After that, as a minister in the Howard government, I tried to make sure that every year, I spent quite a few days here and there in remote Australia. Then in 2008, I became shadow minister for, among other things, Indigenous Affairs.

I worked out that, while over the previous decade and a half, I had been to dozens and dozens of remote Aboriginal communities, I’d never spent more than 24 hours in any one of them. So, I rang up Noel Pearson in the days when Noel was still taking my phone calls. I said, Noel, I really would like to spend a bit of serious time helping in remote Australia. I don’t just want to be a tourist, I want to be useful.

So, in 2008, I spent three weeks as a teacher’s aide – a kind of reading and literary assistant – at the Coen public school in the middle of Cape York. Then, in 2009, I spent 10 days as an assistant truancy officer at Aurukun school. The election happened in 2010 so I was a bit busy. But in 2011, I joined the Home Builder program at Hope Vale as a kind of apprentice carpenter and chippy.

Then in 2012 – Warren, you’ll remember this – a whole group of us went up, including some leading business figures, to refurbish the library at the Aurukun Mission. Then, as Prime Minister, I spent a week in 2014 in East Arnhem Land.

I dragged at least half a dozen other ministers and five or six departmental secretaries in the following year, 2015, to spend a week up in the Torres Strait.

I took ministers and departmental secretaries there because I figured I didn’t just want to be one of those politicians who pontificates from Canberra on the basis of reports and speaking notes. I wanted to be someone who saw how things were on the ground. I wanted to talk to the real people, not just the people who get wheeled up to you by the public service.

Actual Assistance

And you know, the thing that struck me most about remote Australia – apart from the fact that Indigenous people are among the most wonderful people you’ll ever come across: they are stoic; they are people who want to help you, who want to be your mate, who want to sit down and have a yarn – the problem in these places is that the kids don’t go to school.

Also, by and large, the adults don’t go to work because there’s no real economy. And all too often, as we see on our TV screens at the moment, in places like Alice Springs, the ordinary law of the land is not enforced.

So, what we need is not a Voice, because we’ve already got 11 individual Indigenous voices in the Parliament. The government doesn’t need more advice; there’s a cacophony of advice coming to it on this topic. What we need is better policy on the ground.

You’ll remember the stuff we wanted to do to get Indigenous kids to school so that they had the education they needed to go on and, if they chose, leave these places where there are no jobs and go to places where there are jobs. We wanted to get more Indigenous people into work. This was something that Warren did so well.

Well, we gave more contracts to Indigenous businesses, so that Indigenous people were in the real economy, not just working for the government or on some kind of “work for the dole” scheme.

But above all else, the law of the land has got to be enforced. Because, if you’re an Indigenous woman living in the remote part of Australia, you’ve got something like a 30 times greater chance of suffering domestic violence than the average Australian. That is just a tragedy. This is what needs to be fixed. Unfortunately, the Voice is just doubling down on failure.

I’m all in favour of Indigenous recognition. If I’d had longer in the top job, I would have put to the people – probably on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum – that we should amend the preamble to our Constitution to provide that, as one indivisible federal Commonwealth, we are a nation with an Indigenous heritage, a British foundation and an immigrant character because the Constitution belongs to all of us, and this gives something for everyone.

We would have recognised the three great pillars of Australia. All of us would be honoured and thrilled to move into the future just like that.

In the end, this referendum is a referendum about Australia. What sort of a country do you think we are?

I tell you what the authors of the Voice are putting to us: that we are essentially a racist country; that we are essentially a country that should be ashamed of ourselves; that we are essentially a country that needs to atone for 240 years of exploitation and oppression.

And I’ve got to say, I am voting “No” to it all.

___

Originally published in News Weekly.

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One Comment

  1. Claire 11 October 2023 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    Wow! I for one am favourably impressed.
    Well put Tony Abbott. Well done!

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