Supporters of the Voice to Parliament need to refute erroneous claims

14 APRIL 2023

Supporters of the Voice to Parliament need to refute erroneous claims

A Charles Sturt University constitutional law researcher argues that the fate of the proposed Voice to Parliament depends on a willingness of its supporters to refute erroneous claims about it.

Dr Bede Harris (pictured, inset) is a constitutional law expert and Senior Lecturer and Law Discipline Head in the Charles Sturt School of Business in the Faculty of Business, Justice and Behavioural Sciences.

Referring to One Nation Party leader Ms Pauline Hanson’s recent statement that the Voice would create apartheid in Australia, Dr Harris said, having lived in South Africa during the apartheid era, he can state without doubt that the Voice cannot be equated with apartheid.

“Apartheid involved the involuntary classification of people on grounds of race in order to effect segregation in housing, health and education and to deny civil rights – including citizenship – to Black South Africans,” he said.

“How the Voice, which was requested by First Nations people themselves at the Uluru National Constitutional Convention, and for whose members First Nations people will be able to vote if they chose to do so, can be equated with forced segregation is incomprehensible.”

Dr Harris also rejected the view that the Voice would signal discrimination between Australians on grounds of race.

“The Voice has nothing to do with racial categories. Race is a purely social concept with no basis in science. The idea that First Nations peoples are entitled to a dedicated Voice to Parliament is not based on race but rather on their unique historical position of being the original inhabitants of Australia whose rights were removed by conquest.

“The Voice takes account of this uniqueness and seeks to provide redress for those historical circumstances by establishing a mechanism whereby First Nations peoples can express their views collectively.”

Dr Harris said that objections by constitutional conservatives that the ability of the Voice to make representations to the executive would hinder government decision-making were ill-founded.

He said they were based on confusion – perhaps deliberate – between communication of views to government when it is making policy and judicial review of government decisions under administrative law.

“Lobbyists make representations to government all the time in order to influence policy. That gives no subsequent legal right to challenge policy once the government has decided on it,” he said.

“All the Voice does is provide for the making of collective representations by First Nations Australians. It does not create a right to challenge policies once they are made.

“This is very different from the right a person has under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (Commonwealth) to seek judicial review of a decision specifically relating to them – for example the granting of a licence - that the government has made under a statute. That right has existed for decades, and the Voice would have no effect whatsoever on the circumstances in which decisions can be reviewed.”

Dr Harris said that while this distinction would be obvious to lawyers, the poor standard of civics education means that it would not be understood by most voters, a circumstance which the No campaign has taken advantage of.

He noted that of the proposals canvassed since former Prime Minster Julia Gillard initiated the First Nations constitutional recognition process in 2010, the Voice was the most modest, and that it would send a shocking signal to Australia’s First Nations peoples if it was rejected at the referendum.

Dr Harris said that rejection would also mean that Australia’s word counted for nothing in world forums, given that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Australia ratified in 2009, obliges signatories to enable First Nations peoples to express their views as distinct peoples, not just as individual citizens.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Dr Bede Harris contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or

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