The excruciating inevitability of the Voice


The referendum on a First Nations Voice to parliament is going exactly the way we knew it would. Even the curious malaise this knowledge inspires feels predictable. It’s a very modern feeling, powerlessness. Heads snap down and feet shuffle forward as the crowd tries to get through the experience without too much scarring. Just wait. We’ll adopt the same posture for 2023’s US presidential primaries too.

Lying in wait is a thicket of talking heads. From Australia’s most expensive noisemakers, to tranches of bots out of eastern Europe, their cacophonous drone has already begun. It’s all exactly as we knew it would be, but only the truly political can draw comfort. For some Australians, the debate for the Voice will rank amongst the greatest experiences of their lives. You can already see them salivating.

The Nationals are opposing the Voice, such an obvious political test balloon it becomes a mallet to the tenders. Peter Dutton says he is “concerned about closing the gap” but is yet to send the Liberals over the top for open opposition. There’s too much juicy speechifying, interviews, statements and comments on the record, too much fun, to jump yet. Keating did Hewson slowly. Like a true sadist, Dutton will first attach wooden pegs to the issue’s proverbial ballsack. Then just the tip. It’s all he’ll need.

The Libs can circle the Voice like good Balenciaga influencers, gathering likes, retweets and follows for months. There’s an army of well-paid believers ready to do the dirty work. Andrew Bolt, Rita Panahi, Piers Akerman, Peta Credlin, Steve Price, Neil Mitchell, Chris Kenny, Alan Jones… all the usual suspects, will have plenty of invective to sling. The No campaign is armed and ready to misinform and obscure. “The mainstream media is to blame!” They will scream from the studios of The Project and the pages of The Australian.

The Yes campaign will remain polite and stick to its morass of talking points. The burden is on them to carry the day. Referendums fail. Voters hate referendums. And a cohort of precious petals lies in the Yes campaign’s path ready to scream “don’t tread on me!” Nobody use the “R” word. There lie dragons. Never mind the debilitating pain of the actual racism Australians are about to heap on the world’s oldest civilisation. Never mind the dangerous cultural significance of a loss. For the teal-encrusted denizens of Sydney’s north shore and Melbourne’s inner east, the Yes campaign is more about zingers on Twitter than the future of the nation.

Come voting day, the attitude of so many is inevitable. “If only it were clearer what powers the Voice will have!” So sayeth folk who missed the endless ream of specifics across every possible medium. Even now hundreds of thousands of words and days worth of audio-visual have arrived on the subject. “If only it were clearer, I might have thought about supporting it!”

The moment a Voice to parliament was made a question it became toxic. Realistically there is no question. A First Nations policy advisory group should have been empanelled at federation. If it’s possible to believe Australians knew no better then, it is despicable to believe we know no better now. The scale of the disinformation campaign makes it clear who is scared of the Voice and why. A panel of indigenous elders, readily reached and quotable to talk on every indigenous issue, is the most effective silver bullet against institutionalised racism Australia has thus far loaded.

Worse still, restore even advisory democracy to First Nations Australians, maybe more folk will realise their ancestors thrived on it. In 1788, Europe’s parliaments were nigh on Stalinist by comparison to indigenous Australia’s peaceful transnational governance. Lest they forget and be inspired to sit for more seats in parliament and to advocate for the first indigenous head of state. For some Australians, the Voice is a harbinger of the world’s greatest evil: progress, change. And they must be convinced yet again the sky will not fall. And again next year. Then the year after that.

It’s all going exactly as expected. And it’s exhausting. Most of us can only keep our heads down and shuffle through the freaks of this inevitable side show as they scream in our faces “are you not entertained?!?!” For many Australians, this isn’t anything like fun. It’s a question we answered years (decades, centuries) ago. Let’s just get it over with. Quickly. For this referendum, pain, sadly, is inevitable.