Bill Shorten yesterday announced that the Australian Labor Party would block the legislation enabling the proposed plebiscite on same sex marriage in Senate that the Coalition government wants to hold. Bill Shorten called the plebiscite an “expensive, divisive” exercise, largely echoing the arguments that the LGBT lobby groups have been using ever since the plebiscite was announced. In a previous article I refuted all of the arguments against the plebiscite stating that they were an attack on democracy and free speech. With the plebiscite now set to be defeated in the Senate it is clear the arguments against the plebiscite have won the day. So by logical implication shouldn’t the same arguments be used against proceeding with Indigenous Recognition Referendum?
The referendum which is designed to amend into Australia’s Constitution a paragraph with the wording of which still has not been decided. But wording suggested has been along the lines of ‘Recognising that the continent and its islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ and that ‘Respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’. For an amendment to be made to the Constitution, Section 128 of the Constitution states that a referendum where the people of Australia are asked to vote yes or no must be held. It is passed if a majority of voters and a majority of states vote yes.
The argument that was commonly used against the same sex marriage plebiscite that hate speech would be unleashed against a vulnerable group in the community which could even cause suicides could be applied to the referendum as well. If fact this concern has been raised by indigenous activist Marcia Langton who stated that the alleged hate speech from a plebiscite could spill over to the referendum “And, if that happens, that will unleash the dogs on Aboriginal people even more so if the referendum of constitutional recognition goes ahead’’ and that “organised racists” are already planning a campaign of hate. If this will also occur under a referendum and even if the result is yes but damage from the debate will be too great, then why even have the vote? It can also be argued the referendum will be a vote on other people’s (alleged) rights, the argument being that a majority white country should not be able to vote on the rights of the minority indigenous population. Also the referendum will be expensive to hold, this includes all of the costs that the electoral commission incurs but also the public funding of both campaigns that always accompanies referendums in Australia.
The response of proponents’ indigenous recognition in the constitution to these arguments against the referendum is that we are forced to have a public vote because that is the only way to amend our constitution. In other words they would love for the constitution to be able to be simply changed by our politicians to say whatever they want it to say, but damn the constitution allowing the Australian people to have a say by allowing the practice of direct democracy. The left and many libertarians have a disdain for the public having direct say over the laws of the country and they would love to remove this requirement of a referendum, then they could amend the constitution to be one they have always dreamed of.
Well I would like to propose to them that there actually is process where we can avoid a referendum to the constitution and just have politicians change the constitution. Thanks to the fact that we are still a constitutional monarchy, therefore our constitution is still tied to legislation of the British parliament. This would be done first by repealing the Australia Acts of both the British and Australian parliaments which would then enable the British parliament to amend the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 under the direction of the Australian government. Both major parties support the recognition amendments. So the concern about hate speech and public votes on rights can be avoided by a total subversion of Australian democracy by amending the constitution by this unorthodox method. It is the logical end to the arguments against direct democracy, though I would hope that such a disenfranchisement of the Australian people would cause such an outrage in the public it would never be considered. But this is legal plausible option if democratic votes are too triggering and there is a risk feelings could get hurt.
The reason I have put forth this alternative proposal to amend the constitution instead of the referendum is to further highlight the anti-democratic arguments against the plebiscite. I will be someone who will be voting no in the referendum if it is ever held as I fear these amendments will be used by activists’ judges to create a parallel legal system in Australia for indigenous Australians. It also risks enshrining by legal rulings some of the more negative aspects of indigenous culture in our laws which our government will have no means to overturn. Of course I would also like to see this referendum cancelled altogether and our constitution left as it is, which is why I used the arguments against the plebiscite to justify the cancellation. The growing anti-democratic sentiment that having public votes is too triggering and the public cannot be trusted to have a greater say on their country is run is a very concerning development. We should oppose any attempts to undermine our democracy and to further empower our political elites.