Some opponents to the Indigenous Voice to Parliament argue that it’s unfair, even racist, to specifically include references to First Nations people in the Australian Constitution. It’s a view that we will hear repeated many times in the months ahead. Former PM Tony Abbott has been pushing the unfair favouritism line in recent weeks.
But as Chin Tan, Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, highlights: “Equality does not mean we are all treated the same. It has always been true that marginalised groups require unique representation”.
In a recent Guardian opinion piece, Tan writes: “Claims that a voice would create racial inequality are disingenuous because they are not made in order to support greater equality in Australia. Entrenched racism has subjected Indigenous Australians to systemic discrimination for generations, leading to significant disadvantages in areas such as health, education, employment and justice. The Voice provides a unique opportunity to address historical and ongoing discrimination against First Nations people.”
Tan highlights that in 2017 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for constitutional recognition of First Nations people and the establishment of a “meaningful mechanism” that allowed Indigenous Australians to be more effectively heard.
“The referendum provides an opportunity to recognise and acknowledge the unique rights of Indigenous Australians as the first people of this continent – the oldest continuous culture in the world. This would be a powerful act of national unity. Continuing to deny Indigenous Australians a formal voice in decisions that affect them will only serve to maintain racial inequality and continue the marginalisation and disempowerment of First Nations people.”