Official Yes and No campaign pamphlets for the referendum have been released. Yes campaigners are upset the No pamphlet quotes extensively from the voice’s supporters.
Greg Craven had the most explosive reaction, saying he was beside himself with rage that the No pamphlet included this statement he made about the proposed constitutional amendment in an interview with 2GB: “I think it’s fatally flawed because what it does is retain the full range of review of executive action. This means the voice can comment on everything from submarines to parking tickets … We will have regular judicial interventions.”
Craven accuses the No pamphlet writers of quoting him out of context. The context was the release of the constitutional amendment wording. The additional context is that he also said the voice had gone “off track” and that: “Over the past year, it’s really … been colonised by left-leaning ideologues from among the Indigenous community, trying to turn it from a model that was not run by the judges, to a model that absolutely guarantees judicial intervention.”
And: “The reality is that you really will have a situation where any person who wants to create difficulty for a government, tear its decisions down, will end up going to the High Court, either to say that the process hasn’t been properly followed or there’s some legal flaw … it will be very, very difficult for government to operate either because it will be constantly delayed, tied up in knots, or indeed because the courts end up intervening directly in the decision. It will be very hard for government to operate.”
For even more context, people can find Craven expressing the same views on the ABC and in The Australian. This week he says he was concerned about a “niggling drafting issue”. In March he said the amendment wording was a “ruthless con job”. The wording hasn’t changed. Craven declined to retract his views when given an opportunity this week on Sky News. In fact, he conceded the voice would have “great width” on what it could comment on, and the parliament would have to pass “very, very careful legislation to make sure the voice does not exceed its own position”.
But that’s impossible because the voice will have a constitutional right to make representations on any matter relating to Indigenous peoples. That’s everything.
Yes campaigners like to claim the voice’s remit will be limited to matters specific to Indigenous people or which affect Indigenous people differently because these two limbs were highlighted very, very carefully in bullet points in the Second Reading speech. But those words came after the word “include”. There’s no limitation.
Craven also claims the No pamphlet included his quote “without any acknowledgment” that he’s a supporter and campaigner for the voice. But the No pamphlet clearly and prominently states he “supports the voice”. Perhaps Craven overlooked those words like voice supporters overlook the word “include” in the Second Reading speech.
In his criticism Craven even took the opportunity to have a shot at me because of my previous collaboration with an organisation called Uphold & Recognise, which now supports the voice, saying, somewhat accusingly, that I have an “interesting history” on this topic and suggesting I’ve changed my position.
It’s no secret I published an essay six years ago for Uphold & Recognise, written before the Uluru Statement, advocating for a model of recognition that supports traditional owner groups having a say on their own languages, cultures, heritage, land and sea. And that’s a key reason I don’t support the voice. Because a national, representative Indigenous body will undermine traditional owner rights to speak for their own countries. Craven may have read my essay but clearly doesn’t understand it. In any event, I don’t see how it’s relevant to his unretracted and damning criticism of the proposal in March.
Craven claims in The Australian the Yes pamphlet is “so sincere and reasoned you want to slap it”. I needed to slap myself after reading the Yes campaign’s story of a magical wand called the voice that will miraculously cure all the problems. It also features one of the great myths of the campaign, that 80 per cent of Indigenous people support the voice. This claim is based on two polls of only 300 and 738 people.
The ABC has sent journalists to remote communities with larger populations than these survey pools to find almost everyone had never heard of the voice or didn’t understand what it was. And research for a pro-voice organisation, Passing the Message Stick, found 45 per cent of Indigenous people had never heard of it or didn’t understand it and 25 per cent of Indigenous people intend to vote No.
Craven’s defence of himself paints the now typical picture that the Yes campaign is on the side of the angels and the No campaign is “nasty” and “vicious”. I’m a bit sick of this kind of hypocrisy. Yes campaigners have hurled some of the most egregious abuse at Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and myself, including Noel Pearson, who accused us both of being “glove puppets” for white people, a comment I regard as a disgraceful piece of racial abuse.
If the Yes pamphlet was being sincere it would tell people the truth: neither symbolic recognition nor a great big new bureaucracy, as outlined in the Calma/Langton report, are capable of solving the problems facing many Aboriginal people. Only economic participation can do this: kids in school, adults in jobs, people able to create businesses and own their own homes. That isn’t achieved with a magic wand. It’s achievable only through hard graft and political courage.
The fact is that advocates for the voice have provided some of the most compelling reasons to vote No. In a few months, Australians will be asked to vote for exactly the same “con job” Craven warned us about in March. It would have been remiss of the parliamentarians who prepared the No pamphlet not to quote him.
Nyunggai Warren Mundine is Indigenous Forum director at the Centre for Independent Studies.
Photo by Jonas Schallenberg