Letter to Members February 2023
A 1500 word treatise on the Voice and the Sovereignty of the Australian People
by Philip Benwell
There is a lot that is happening around us that will be confusing for many of our members and supporters. Most are not accustomed to having to handle the intricacies involved in making changes to the Australian Constitution, particularly when the proposers of change, the prime minister and his government, are intentionally not being upfront in providing the detail of any change, instead indicating that the public should “trust us” which is reminiscent of the quote by Charles de Gaulle heading this article.
As we have continually stated, the Australian Monarchist League is not involved in the Voice per se, but we are involved in protecting the integrity of the Australian Constitution. It was in this regard that we came out against the ‘Recognise A Better Way’ NO committee when it proposed changing the Preamble to the Australian Constitution. Many Australians were also offended by being termed ‘migrants’, even if their families had been here for over 200 years. It appears to indicate the mindset behind the Voice to the Parliament. It is wrong. All Australian citizens are Australians whether born here or naturalised.
The fact is, we are not dealing with a simple Voice to the parliament, but with several other integral matters surrounding the Voice which could have a detrimental effect on the Australian Constitution and on our system of governance.
Matters of Sovereignty
All independent nations have power. In autocracies or absolute monarchies, which are both dictatorships, that power resides in the president or the king. In many democracies that power is shared between the parliament, however it may be elected, and the government.
(Four of Australia's Founding Fathers)
In Australia however, our constitution ensures that the power of the nation resides in the people. That is why the Australian people, and no one else, are required to agree to any change to the Australian Constitution that may be put forward by the parliament. It is a unique power that must be carefully nurtured and protected. This is also why only 8 out of 44 referendums have passed since 1901.
Just imagine the situation if, as in the UK, the Australian parliament had the power to change the constitution without having to go to the people. We would have become a republic 30 or more years ago, impediments on the power of politicians would have been removed and the power of the Senate totally emasculated, just as Tony Blair did to the Royal Prerogative and the House of Lords.
We are now being asked to amend the Constitution to include what is termed “an Indigenous Voice to the Parliament.” Whilst this appears to be innocuous, and even necessary to ameliorate the plight of Aboriginal communities, it is important to examine exactly how the Constitution is to be amended and to have legal opinion on what the consequences of any amendment may be. This is not being anti the Voice but rather pro the Constitution and ensuring that if there is to be an amendment it is properly done. At the moment, we lack detail on all basic points.
For instance, the prime minister has said that the Uluru Statement (image above) will be implemented in full. This will basically include the following which are key ellments of the Uluru Statement from the Heart (my underlining):
Sovereignty. Acknowledgement that Aboriginal tribes were the first sovereign nations of the Australian continent, that sovereignty was never ceded and that it co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
Constitutional reform. Constitutional reforms would empower Aboriginal people to manage their own affairs and righten the current skewed statistics for e.g. incarceration or suicide.
Makarrata Commission. A Makarrata (Treaty) Commission would have two roles: Develop a national framework that would permit each sovereign Aboriginal nation state to negotiate their own respective treaty; and oversee a process of truth-telling. Similar commissions (including truth telling) are common throughout the world and have been established in countries such as Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
Truth-telling, a process that exposes the full extent of the past injustices experienced by Aboriginal people. Importantly, it empowers Aboriginal people to no longer be a subject in the dialogue about Aboriginal history, but instead be the voice telling this history. It would allow all Australians to understand Aboriginal and Australian history and assist in moving towards genuine reconciliation.
Voice to Parliament. Establishment of an elected voice to the Parliament with constitutional backing. This voice would be empowered to give Aboriginal people a say in laws that affect them. It would be a voice that cannot be removed unless by a future constitutional referendum.
You can view the Uluru statement in full, together with other documentation in regard to the Voice on our website at the link below.
Quite understandably, many people are confused by all this talk about sovereignty because they were taught that there is only one sovereignty, and that is the sovereignty of the Crown and the people as a whole. However, we are now seeing other claims of sovereignty, including the black sovereignty movement now led by Senator Lidia Thorpe. If the Uluru Statement is accepted in full, which appears to be the intention of the prime minister, then also accepted would be the fact that “that sovereignty was never ceded” by the Aboriginal peoples. How an indigenous sovereignty can coexist with the people’s sovereignty has not been explained and in this context ‘coexist’ can mean many things to many people.
Including either a direct or an implied acceptance of the Uluru Statement in full can lead to a direct undermining of the whole basis on which the Constitution of 1901 was established.
As you know, there were referendums in each colony (State) in the 1890s which approved the Constitution of 1901. These referendums were held under the auspices of the British Crown which was the sovereignty existing in Australia since 1788. That sovereignty was effectively transferred to the Australian people in 1901.
However, if the Uluru Statement is to be accepted in full, the Australian people’s sovereignty could cease to exist because Australians would have accepted, by referendum, that the sovereignty of the Aboriginal people, who are to be recognised as “the first sovereign nations of the Australian continent” was never ceded to Britain in the first place.
The fact is, once the Australian people constitutionally recognise that there are separate sovereignties, the whole basis of our system of governance and the Constitution itself becomes shrouded in uncertainty.
This has all been highlighted by the claims of Senator Thorpe that the Australian Constitution does not exist and that only Aboriginal (Black) sovereignty exists.
If the Uluru statement is accepted in full in the Australian Constitution then the High Court could very well accept that Aboriginal sovereignty supersedes the people’s sovereignty, because the people themselves have agreed by referendum vote to include it.
Mind you, in making these assessments I am only going on the prime minister’s comments but then, what else do we have to go on because there is no written documentation explaining exactly what is to be put into the Constitution and what its implications will be.
The Makarrata Treaty
I now turn to the matter of the treaty or treaties. Exactly who will the treaty be with and for what? Will a treaty be recognising Aboriginal sovereignty? What will be the benefit to the Australian people as a whole?
Now, in all of these issues that I am raising, this is not to say that we are against having a Voice to the parliament, the concern I and others have is that by including not only the concept of a Voice but everything that appears to go with it, in accordance with the Uluru statement, the Australian Constitution will undoubtedly be undermined together with the system of governance as it is.
We should also not forget that a legislated Voice will be permanent even if it follows the pathway of the seven earlier Voice-type committees and degenerates into absolute corruption, disarray or ineffectiveness as several of the previous seven indigenous committees have done since 1973.
These seven committees were the Whitlam government’s National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (1973-77) which was replaced by the National Aboriginal Conference (1977-85). That was scrapped to make way for ATSIC, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (1989-2005). The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (1991-2000), the National Indigenous Council (2005-07), the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (2009-19) and the prime minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council (2013-19) were established with the objective of enabling Indigenous voices to be heard in the corridors of power but became defunct.
Perhaps it would be far wiser to have a Voice to the parliament legislated by the parliament itself rather than being included in the Constitution.
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