Politics Opinion

All or nothing: Including a First Nations voice to Parliament

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has announced the suggested wording for a referendum to vote on altering the Constitution to include an Indigenous voice to Parliament (Screenshot via YouTube)

Changing the Constitution to include an Indigenous voice to Parliament would require other changes for inclusiveness, writes Dr Randell Heyman.

THERE ARE MANY ARGUMENTS for and against the proposal to change the Constitution to enable a First Nations voice to Parliament. One of the most common arguments against the proposal is that it privileges one group and is thus divisive.

Another way of expressing this is that the proposal fails the “all or nothing” test — changes to things like the Constitution should either not mention any groups of people, or should mention all groups of people.

The arguments for and against the proposal for a voice to Parliament are not the point of this article. These arguments have been – and will continue to be – well discussed in the media.

The point here, particularly for those (like me) who agree with the “all or nothing” test, is to test our conviction by applying the test consistently to other Australian national symbols.

In practice, not mentioning any group is easy. You can just use a word like “we”. One of the best examples emanates from the United States of America in its Declaration of Independence‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’.

To mention all groups requires us to define these groups in some logical way. There appear to be three groups without which Australia would not be the Australia that we all know today. These are the First Nations peoples, the settlers from Britain and the non-British immigrants.

These groups have left an essential and lasting mark on our Australian life. Quoting former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, these three groups have given Australia ‘our Indigenous heritage; our British foundation; and our immigrant character’.

Let’s apply the “all or nothing” test to other ideas for change in the Constitution. A proposal to include a single paragraph regarding First Nations peoples in a preamble to the Constitution should be resisted as it only mentions one of the three groups.

A proposal to include three paragraphs in a preamble to the Constitution with one section on First Nations peoples, one on British foundations and one on immigration/multiculturism is satisfactory.

Now to some other national symbols.

The national anthem is flawed and should be changed. The sentence in the second verse, ‘For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share’, is an adequate reference to immigration. But the only link to the British foundations is the single word ‘Commonwealth’. There appears to be no reference to First Nations people. I’m no songwriter; I’ll leave it to others to suggest a new anthem.

What about changing the Australian flag? The top left-hand corner is an obvious representation of our British foundations. The Southern Cross does not seem to be a good representation of the First Nations people. But in any case, the flag contains no representation of immigration. Therefore, the flag should be changed. I am not a designer, so I’ll leave it to others to change the flag.

The timing of Australia Day is clearly a problem. It is based on the arrival of the First Fleet from Britain. For many First Nation people, it represents a day of sorrow. In any case, the timing of the day is silent about immigration/multiculturism. The “all or nothing” test clearly calls for the day to be changed. Again, I leave it to others to suggest a day.

The proposal to change Australia to a republic can also be examined with regard to the “all or nothing” test. Our current arrangements involving the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland clearly violate the “all or nothing” test.

Applying the “all or nothing” test to all these national symbols appeals because it is a consistent approach. Some will see nothing wrong in being inconsistent. Some will see such significant adverse effects from the ideas above that they overwhelm the idea of being consistent. Finally, some people will use intricate “legal-type” arguments to justify being inconsistent.

There is nothing wrong with rejecting consistency for any reason. But if you reject the voice to Parliament because it doesn’t satisfy the “all or nothing” test and you are honest (or fair dinkum) with yourself, it is a worthwhile exercise to ask a question. Am I also in favour of changing the anthem, changing the flag, changing Australia Day and making Australia a republic?

Dr Randell Heyman has degrees in Actuarial Studies and Pure Mathematics. He is currently a university academic focusing on number theory research.

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