Victorian Socialists statement on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament

Posted on Tuesday, 5 September

Victorian Socialists encourages its members and supporters to vote ‘yes’ in the 14 October referendum on establishing an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

An Aboriginal flag flies amid the crowd outside Flinders Street Station during the Invasion Day rally in 2023

We have criticisms of the Voice, and understand why some Indigenous people have decided either to abstain or vote ‘no’. It will be an advisory body only, with no real control over Indigenous affairs, and there’s no requirement for Parliament to act on any of the views it offers.

The main thing that will determine whether Indigenous people achieve justice and overcome the deep-seated racism and oppression they face in Australia today isn’t the establishment (or not) of a Voice to Parliament. Similar bodies that existed in the past (such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) made little difference to the lives of most Indigenous people.

The key thing will be the continued organising and resistance of Indigenous people and their supporters on the ground. Without that kind of movement, it’s all too likely that any Indigenous voices that gain representation in the parliamentary sphere (whether via the Voice or any other mechanism) will be ignored.

Victorian Socialists remains committed to standing side-by-side with our Indigenous brothers and sisters in that ongoing struggle.

Victorian Socialists members march on Invasion Day

However, while we don’t believe a victory for the ‘yes’ side in this referendum will, on its own, represent a major step forward for Indigenous rights, we think a victory for the ‘no’ side is likely to be a step backwards.

As the ‘no’ campaign has gained momentum, the right-wing and racist elements have come to the fore. Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton has claimed the Voice will ‘re-racialise’ Australian society, undermine democracy and give ‘special privileges’ to Indigenous people. This kind of rhetoric has given encouragement to the most conservative sections of Australian society to voice their opposition to Indigenous rights in even more explicitly racist terms.

This is having real-world consequences. The Western Australian government recently succumbed to a right-wing backlash, associated with the campaign against the Voice—overturning the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act which it passed in July and which provided a modicum of protections to avoid a repeat of the kind of wanton destruction of Indigenous heritage that we saw at Juukan Gorge in 2020.

We’ve also seen a hysterical moral panic about Indigenous youth crime. The Queensland state government recently changed the law to criminalise breaches of bail conditions by young people and suspended the Human Rights Act in order to allow them to put detained youth into adult watchhouses. Queensland has the largest youth prison population in the country, 62.6 percent of which is Indigenous.

A victory for the ‘no’ campaign will put wind in the sails of all those in Australian society and politics who want to see more of this. It will encourage the likes of Dutton and his supporters at right-wing media outlets like Sky News to ramp up the racist rhetoric, and attempt to push through more attacks on Indigenous people in the coming months and years.

Neither will the Labor Party be immune. It’s notable that both the examples cited above involve Labor state governments. For all the party’s progressive-sounding rhetoric in association with the Voice campaign, in practice it’s frequently been a barrier to anything that might actually advance Indigenous rights on the ground, and a victory for the ‘no’ campaign will encourage it in this direction.

That’s why Victorian Socialists believes all progressives should vote ‘yes’ in the referendum, and do whatever we can in the meantime to convince others to do the same. Let’s play our part in opposing the racism and lies of the right. But let's also get ready, no matter what the outcome is on 14 October, to continue the fight!