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A strong Bill of Rights over a toothless Voice

[by Wayne Connop]


Wayne Connop, Dogaman TO and former barrister. Image: supplied

Over the years, many Australians have been pushing for a Bill of Rights. This has occurred in response to events that have been perceived as human rights abuses that a bill of rights could guard against. For example, such abuses include the Northern Territory Intervention rolled out in 2008, which many feel infringed on the rights of our mob and the treatment of asylum seekers in detention.

The voice is a federal vehicle, but NT is a Territory, so how does the Voice fix our problems? The current circumstances of community and Indigenous affairs break down is on display daily on our main streets and still governments, federal and NT, don’t want to listen?

What protection do we have if the Voice gets up?

How does it affect our funding stream and day to day living to address the dysfunctions and deficit discourses put on us by failed government policies?

Will the Voice be a ‘lip’ service and the elites in major cities benefit more than the people on the ground in the NT, who are currently desperate for a new beginning. 

We continue to be ignored when it comes to being consulted.

Increasingly draconian federal ‘security’ legislation, being passed in response to fears of terrorism, have also prompted calls for human rights protections as civil liberties sometimes conflict with such legislation.

Supporters of a Bill of Rights argue that parliament cannot be trusted to protect human rights and that a Bill of Rights is needed to strengthen and consolidate human rights protections and ensure that legislation passed conforms to human rights principles.

Supporters argue a Bill of Rights would encourage social inclusion, provide a means of redress to minorities suffering unfair treatment.

Other arguments in favour of a Bill of Rights for Australia are that this would improve Australia’s international reputation and would allow for current and past human rights violations to be addressed. 

Opponents of a Bill of Rights for Australia argue that such a measure would fetter the powers of parliament to legislate as appropriate and would give an undesirable amount of power to the courts. They argue that parliament can be relied on to protect our human rights and not to pass laws that contravene these rights.

A Bill of Rights that is constitutionally entrenched is very hard to change. The US constitution, for example, contains protections of rights such as freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. The right to bear arms contained in the second amendment has meant, in practice, that it is very difficult for the US Parliament to legislate for gun control.

Other arguments sometimes advanced against a Bill of Rights are that such a piece of legislation would only benefit criminals and minorities, would clog the courts with claims and that Australians do not support such a move.

What’s missing is that the Voice needs to consider a number of provisions that contain a number of social and economic rights such as the right to adequate childcare and the right to an adequate standard of living. The financial implications, the structure of policy development and the legal implications are not just lip service and enshrine a Voice in the constitution.

We don’t need to be bogged down and left high and dry.

Pro Voice people need to understand and so do the elites, that were handpicked, that a Voice is political and as such must be transparent. Recently the federal government Indigenous Affairs Minister and Federal Attorney General granted $89million to establish a justice reinvestment scheme handpicked by the UTS Jumbunna Centre to deliver outcomes. Was this a tendered scheme or a project for the mates? I know those operating the program are as far removed from the NT as one could be.

It appears cracks are starting to unfold and the government is getting nervous so spend, spend, spend our tax payer’s money and give more band aid solutions before a referendum is called. After all, the huge grants make them feel like they're actually doing something. They rightfully spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Alice Springs to fight youth crime, yet totally ignored Tennant Creek, my hometown of Katherine, Darwin and Nhulunbuy. 

Minister Burney should spend a day and night on the public streets in those towns, in more appropriate dress, less her designer clothes, and then she'll understand youth crime is not the exclusive domain of Alice Springs.

How much money has the government and specifically Minister Burney given to buddies who support the Voice?

How much money has the government and specifically Minister Burney spent on the ‘official’ Yes campaign, as they continue to say No to funding the ‘No campaign’?

The more Australians, and especially our ‘mob’, become aware of the ineffectiveness of a Voice – the great promoted toothless tiger with absolutely no power, influence or control over finance – the less support it will get.

I would urge the government to consider a Bill of Rights as the viable option to the Voice.


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