A plea to a moderate ‘no’ voter

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Standing at a polling booth handing out “Yes” leaflets, I could succumb to thinking the worst about “no” voters – rants about how the Voice is a UN takeover of Australia or the jibes of people who loudly rev their cars and yell that they vote “no” could colour how I think. But I do my best to resist that temptation.

But moderate, sensible ‘No’ voters are easy to find. For example, Sandy Grant, dean of St Andrews Anglican Cathedral in Sydney. I hope Sandy will forgive me for thinking that his explanation for voting “no” is not him at his best.

Sandy takes up the most powerful of the ‘no’ arguments: “The Voice proposal seeks to provide certain rights to a group of citizens solely because they are Indigenous or First Nations peoples.

“This appears to walk away from the principle of equal treatment of all citizens before the nation’s law.

“Ideals of equality and associated human rights, which are deeply valued throughout much of the world, including Australia, can be traced in their development, in very large measure, to the Judaeo-Christian worldview that all humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

“Moreover, with the coming of Christ, Colossians 3:11 says:

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. [NIV]”

Sandy, as you acknowledge, we live in a complicated society. Besides the First Nations’ peoples. we have migrants, refugees, different religions and an increasing disparity of wealth.

Our state takes account of this in the name of equality, passing laws to assist groups that might otherwise miss out. But not without debate and soul-searching.

So older people without means get an aged pension, which is based on age and wealth.

People living with a disability have access to the NDIS. The NDIS board is structured to have people living with a disability on it.

Women have safe spaces funded, and representative bodies to ensure this works well are paid for by the government.

People who have served in the armed forces have a government department, Veteran’s affairs, and a well-established lobby group.

We don’t say “everyone is the same” and leave it at that. We have a complicated set of ways to try to get a fair go for all.

God, in his wisdom, allows a world in which the ability to create wealth is not equally distributed. Some people live with a disability. Others have very great burdens, sometimes self-inflicted.

You are correct to point out Bible says, we are all one in Christ, speaking firstly to people who lived in the Roman Empire with slavery as an economic driver, and extreme male privilege in its households.

Made one in Christ, those early Christians began to uphold the dignity of all, fostering abandoned children, upholding the dignity of women, and, far too slowly, abolishing slavery in Christendom.

This week we vote on a plan to set up an advisory committee to assist Aboriginal and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is a modest proposal. If this change is accepted it will be a small step.

Why put the Voice in the Constitution?

Grant writes: Addressing such disadvantage is a compassionate desire that all Christians can support. But some of us may prefer different means to the same end. He points out the federal parliament can pass laws to address disadvantage – and less accept that he and other moderate “no” voters believe this should be done. But he adds quoting the late constitutional lawyer David Jackson “One point which appears to be made in support of the proposed amendment is that it ensures that there will always be a Voice. But why should there be, in perpetuity, a voice entrenched constitutionally? No very satisfactory answer has ever emerged.

The answer is in Lowitja O’Donoghue’s biography Lowitja by Stuart Rintoul and many other resources. This remarkable leader, born in what we now call the APY lands in SA, in the Colebrook home at two, fought institutional racism to train as a nurse, and rose to lead ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) for its first six years. ATSIC (1990–2005) like the Council for Aboriginal Affairs (1967-1976), National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (1973–1978) and National Aboriginal Conference (1978-1985).

The cycle of establishing a Voice-style structure, then it being abolished has led to the desire for a constitutionally-enshrined body, that can be reformed when necessary but not disappear.

Not this way – other options

Grant uses the title “not this way” for his piece on the Voice, so it is fair to ask about alternatives.

He argues for

• A preamble in the constitution to include recognition

• A narrower voice focussed “on providing advice on laws that relate principally to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

• A legislated Voice – given the South Australian example of a voice to its parliament.

It is hard to see the first two options which require referenda, happening anytime soon.

At every election, we have to choose between parties, none of which exactly match what we would like. Maybe you have experienced wishing you could assemble policies from both sides in some sort of smorgasbord. We have to pick between the options we actually have.

The same applies to this vote. We might want a slightly different Voice. But we have to contend with the one we have been offered, and not act on an assumption that we are going to get another vote.

The history of referenda – for example, the republic vote – means that putting up another one is unlikely soon. Certainly not in this term of government, seeing that PM Albanese has said any result needs to be respected. The opposition is opposed to a national level voice which rules out the second option.

Talking treaty beyond the voice getting up or failing

Sandy Grant expresses an openness to further discussion, which marks him out as a moderate. “Some Christians may be inclined to consider forms of agreement-making as urged by the Uluru Statement From the Heart. Certainly, there are potentially vexed questions over both theory (e.g., about multiple sovereignties co-existing) and practice in this area (e.g., treaties with which Aboriginal and Torres Islander nations, represented by which groups, with membership determined by what means?). Nevertheless, the Bible often testifies to the fact that God is an agreement-making God. And so some Christians might be open to the possibility of productive discussions in this area of agreement making, and the truth-telling that would also need to accompany it.”

Is it too obvious to point out that the Voice, is a good answer to some of the practical problems for further discussion that Sandy raises? Sorting out who can represent the diverse groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be a great function for a local, regional and national Voice. They could even work out who belongs to the First Nations groups.

Grant is right to point out that agreement-making will continue to be on the agenda of the nation, and that is consistent with how Christians live as image bearers of the creator God.