On “The Voice to Parliament”

Blog by Lukas

(For non-Australian readers, there will be a national referendum later this year on changing the Constitution to add a First Nations ‘Voice to Parliament’ as an advisory body to the federal government, without official powers. “This is part of a reconciliation process that’s been running for decades. A key moment came at a historic meeting of First Nations people from across the country at the First Nations’ National Constitutional Convention in 2017. As many as 250 Indigenous delegates met at Uluru and, after days of discussions, reached a consensus on a 440-word statement, now known at the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It has three key objectives:

1.Voice to Parliament
3.Truth-telling” (quoted from this article)

The Constitutional amendment proposed would read:

“In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:

1.There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
2.The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
3.The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.” (quoted from this article)

Lukas’s take on the issue is below. Enjoy!)

Why I’m voting Yes in three points

Whatever we think of the practicalities and politics of The Voice referendum, we can’t afford to ignore it. If nothing else, something important and volatile is brewing at the energetic and psychic level. This goes for all Aussies, but in particularly for Aboriginal people and Anglo-Celtic Australians, the two main protagonists in the often dark recent history of this land. (Image from here)

Voice to Parliament concept is ‘racist’ and ‘divisive’ | Sky News Australia

We can’t know whether this volatility will lead us down a healing or an even darker path, or both. But as with most things, I believe a ‘sunlight’ attitude will help. We need to bring our deepest thoughts and feelings to the surface and into the cleansing light of the sun. This process may well take the form of great explosions of suffering that scatter our former selves across the land like rubble. But I can’t help but envision a gentler path even if sometimes this destruction feels inevitable and necessary.

1. The Uluru Statement

Of course it doesn’t represent every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person. But the Uluru Statement feels like a truer reflection of Indigenous governance, both practically and energetically, than anything that has come before. It is clear in asking for the Voice. I feel a responsibility to respect this request with humility for what I don’t know or understand.

2. We need more forums for intimate relationship building, community dialogue, and consensus.

A Voice for Aboriginal people doesn’t have to be an outlier that further cleaves this nation’s people in two. It can be the first step on the road to more direct democracy, representation and community dialogue for lots of different groups and topics.

We should never accept our imperfect representative democracy as the best we can do.

Democracy Is The Best Form Of Government: Arguments For And Against ...

We should never put efficiency of decision making above our deepest human need for connection and meaning.

We should do our best to avoid reducing groups of people to abstract and remote objects, whether we’re talking about “Aboriginal people”, the “homeless” or anyone else. (Image from here)

Even with the best of intentions, it is very hard to do justice to the complexity of a whole person when working from a distance. Think about how many people a local Federal member is supposed to represent and what that means both practically and spiritually. Now compare that to the complex, intimate and place-based (grounded) kinship structures, law and lore of pre-colonial Australia and how they created one of the most peaceful societies in human history. We need to start the process of going back in this direction. For all of us.

3. Incremental change and visions of radical change must coexist without always knowing how they will meet.

On a deep existential level I don’t believe in this nation state called Australia. However pure the intentions of its notions of liberal justice and freedom, I see these as ideas grafted onto a spiritual and physical superstructure that was and is hierarchical, controlling and exploitative. It is still a colony. See my dialogue with Valerie on settler trauma for more detailed thoughts on this.

I see most people, especially wealthy Anglo-“white”-Australians, living in ignorance of these truths. A bribe of material prosperity and a degree of self-determination most embodied by the illusion of land “ownership” serves to anaesthetise and hide deeper longings and knowings, and the sense that we’re exploited and controlled. It’s like the matrix.

The higher up the hierarchy you are, the more physical comforts (on deeper levels there’s nothing comfortable about this way of being), with those below serving as a warning as to what will happen to you if you stray off script. There is a strong argument to be made that the very idea of “race” was created with this in mind. (See Roots Deeper than Whiteness, Seeing White podcast, Healing whiteness trauma blog).

Bribery Case: Military Engineering Services officer, 5 others held by CBIFor much of the history of colonial Australia, Aboriginal Australians weren’t even offered the bribe. This is slowly changing, but for most part the structures and systems are still too racist, controlling, individualistic and devoid of spirit. They insist that Aboriginal people forgo their communal rights to land, their sovereignty. The bribe doesn’t work. The conservative “no” campaign might as well say: “Don’t worry, give it time, we can eventually bribe most of them and the rest we can safely oppress. As a society we’re experts at this.” (Image from here)

Having said all this, one might ask why should we keep investing in these toxic structures and systems, most embodied by the Australian nation state? Shouldn’t we just boycott and undermine them, and settle for nothing less than radical change? For some Aboriginal Australians, Lidia Thorpe for example, this might mean settling for nothing less than treaty and restoration of full sovereignty. Good luck to her I suppose.

But I don’t think many of us are ready for statelessness, me included. We’re all too traumatised by hierarchy, top-down power and control, and our severance from Country, both practically and spiritually.

Debunking the 'Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps' Myth - Everyday ...Given what we’ve lost as far as knowledge of more intimate and communal governance structures, relationship to Country and self-sufficiency, I believe we need to work on growing and healing these aspects of ourselves whilst chipping away at rather than attempting wholesale revolution and rebellion from the structures and systems of the state. We must keep pushing the boot off our throats whilst never losing sight of a radical vision of change. (Image from here)

For people down the bottom of the hierarchy, this might mean very physically focused work concentrating on the way the system denies them basic care and sustenance. For those of us higher up the power hierarchy, it might mean more work in the mental and spiritual realms, and as much renunciation from numbing comforts as we can handle without egocentric martyrdom.

In other words, we must manipulate the system into letting us sow the seeds of something better.

On a daily level I try to do this for my social work clients and community, as well as for myself. An increase in Job Seeker (welfare payments), or more public housing, or a grant for a new men’s shed, despite coming from an oppressive system, has the potential to increase our short-term wellbeing and give us space to consider what we really want and vision something more. This is even if, or perhaps even ESPECIALLY if, we don’t know how the here and now and our greater vision will connect.

To be flippant about incremental improvement in all its forms risks condescending to a lot of hard work, whether your own or the work of others.

Embodied in The Voice, I see a generational moment. For many of the Elders who authored the Uluru Statement, I suspect their relationship with the Australian state has been so dire as to make incremental change all they could hope for. Perhaps they didn’t even dare dream. And now there may well be light at the end of the tunnel, and maybe the Aboriginal community and all of us can have bigger dreams. But in many ways, I think it is built on the opportunity that all of this incremental improvement has afforded, paltry as it may seem when viewed through the prism of matrices like the Closing the Gap indicators or revolution. Perhaps this request is a big part of the legacy of the hard work and resilience of these Elders?

Yes or No: the organisations taking a public position…

The space between our immediate day to day struggles and our bigger dreams and visions is perhaps the most dangerous for a human mind. It is where we trick ourselves the most, it’s where we obsess and grind, and lose our faith.

Will a new way of making representations to the Australian government really improve things for Aboriginal people? We can’t know. But it feels like a step, a step made positive the more we get behind it. (Image from here)

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