Australia Today Newsletter – December 2022 Update – Update From The Centre for the Australian Way of Life

27 December 2022

By: John Roskam

Dear Readers,

I hope you’ve had a nice Christmas. Just before the end of the year I wanted to give you an update on the work of the Centre for the Australian Way of Life and suggest some summer reading.

The first thing to mention to you is that we’ve had a terrific response to the special episode of IPA Encounters with Senator Jacinta Price that we released just before Christmas. Within half a day of it being released on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter it had already been watched by more than 11,000 people. It’s well on the way to being as popular as my discussion with Mark Steyn the year before last which has had more than 100,000 views (103,000 to be exact). If you haven’t already watched it, you can just click the image below.

There’s a lot Senator Price and I covered in just over half an hour of our conversation but there were a few things that particularly struck me. The first is that Australia has a history to be proud of and that of course there’s good and bad in our past but we can’t let the bad forever define us.

The second point Senator Price made is that eventually there must be an endpoint to reconciliation. It can’t continue in perpetuity. ‘Reconciliation’ is about sharing an understanding and then moving on. As the Senator wrote in her contribution to the IPA’s Essays for Australia that I discussed last month, for more than fifty years Australians have been promised that a ‘Whitlam moment’ whether it be land rights, the Apology, or now the voice to parliament will be the opportunity for reconciliation. For Senator Price it’s not grand gestures that count – what counts are real practical outcomes for communities, not what happens in Canberra.

What the Senator said about the voice was very important. I’ve remarked before how the world has changed…few years ago to say that all Australians should have the same legal and political rights would have been entirely unexceptional – indeed that idea is a foundation principle of our liberal democracy. But to say so today in 2022 is now somehow controversial.

In The Australian a few days ago, Chris Merritt who was previously the newspaper’s legal editor and is now the Vice-President of the Rule of Law Education Centre in Sydney (I’m a member of the Centre’s Governing Committee) had an important article on exactly this issue. It was entitled ‘Voice would undermine equal rights of citizens’. The whole piece is outstanding and here is some of its beginning.

As the year draws to a close, there is no avoiding the fact that these are dark times for two great principles that were once unquestioned: equal rights as citizens and the presumption of innocence.

These are the institutional pillars that enabled this nation to shake of its authoritarian beginnings and transform itself into the land of the fair go.

But these pillars will be tested next year in two important matters: the first is the debate over the proposed Indigenous voice to parliament; the second is the question of whether federal and ACT governments can repair the damage caused by the catastrophic handling of the Brittany Higgins affair.

And the starting point is this country’s long struggle to build a nation based on the idea that we are all equal regardless of race, religion or political affiliation. The second principle is the golden threat that runs through the common law: we are all presumed innocent of wrongdoing until proven otherwise in a court of law. These ideas are all that stand between individual liberty and the waves of hysteria that are regularly seeping from the sewer of social media into the weakest parts of the mainstream media and then, inexorably, into the weakest minds in politics.

The real issue with the debate over the voice is not whether Indigenous Australians deserve a fair go. Of course they do. And if that means listening to them on matters that relate specifically to Indigenous affairs, of course we should listen.

But that is not what the voice is about.

The coming referendum is the reverse of a fair go: we are being asked to abandon egalitarian principles and revert to a system that would be familiar to feudal England, pre-revolutionary France or some Orwellian nightmare.

We might all be equal, but if this referendum succeeds, some will be more equal than others. We are being asked to give a defined group, based on their genetic inheritance, more say than others when it comes to all matters of public policy and law – not just Indigenous affairs, and not just at a federal level.

This was made clear on Wednesday [last week] when Indigenous constitutional lawyer Megan Davis of the University of NSW was interviewed by the ABC’s Laura Tingle. According to Tingle, nobody has been more involved in developing the voice over the past five years than Davis.

Tingle asked Davis what issues Indigenous Australians wanted to talk about to parliament through the voice. Davis’ answer: ‘At this point, virtually every issue.’

Merritt concludes – ‘So here’s what emerges: it looks like the voice will not necessarily be democratic but will have the power to compel the federal government to listen to whatever it says on anything – including matters that go beyond Indigenous affairs and affect all Australians.’ 

Nearly every mainstream media organisation in the country supports the voice either overtly or implicitly and polls supposedly showing a majority of Australians favour the voice are given great prominence. For example in The Guardian in August there was this:

A clear majority of Australians are on board with an Indigenous voice to parliament, according to the latest Guardian Essential poll, but a majority of respondents also haven’t heard very much about it.

Asked whether or not they would support a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament to provide advice on policies impacting First Nations people, 65% of 1,075 Guardian Essential poll respondents said yes, and 35% said no.

And in the Fairfax newspapers in September there was this:

Australians have backed the idea of an Indigenous Voice by a clear majority of 64% in favour of draft working from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to give First Nations people a more powerful say in national affairs.

The results in the Resolve Political Monitor, conducted for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age by research company Resolve Strategic, include responses to a final question akin to a referendum with only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ options.

In their first question on the proposal, 53% of voters were in favour and 29% were against while 19% were undecided. In the ‘forced choice’ question akin to a referendum, 64% were in favour and 36% were against.

That all sounds conclusive. But it’s not. 

When you go beyond the symbolism and start to ask Australians what they think of the specifics of the voice the picture becomes more complicated and the claim there’s majority enthusiasm for the voice dissolves. It’s not an accident the Albanese government is refusing to provide any details about how the voice will operate – the more the Australian public learns about the voice the less they like it.

A fortnight ago the IPA released the results of a poll about the voice of 1,000 Australians. When Australians were asked to agree or disagree with the statement ‘There should be a separate entity in the federal parliament, solely comprised of Indigenous Australians, to advise on all laws for every Australian’ – 38% agreed, 34% disagreed, and 28% were unsure. In no state was there majority support for the referendum proposal.

That’s a very different result from the polls that asked only about the concept of a voice. As the IPA’s Morgan Begg said, ‘This shows that Australians are sympathetic to the voice when the question put to them is vague, but support rapidly plummets when the question contains details about what the voice will likely mean in practice.’

The IPA poll doesn’t fit the media narrative – which is why the media ignored it. IPA Executive Director, Scott Hargreaves discussed the results with Andrew Bolt on Sky News but that’s been the only coverage the poll has received.

There was another question in the poll with an interesting result. People are asked their view on the statement – ‘The National Party of Australia’s announcement that it is officially opposed to the Indigenous-only voice to parliament is a good thing for Australian democracy as it ensures there will now be a debate on the matter’. 50% agreed, 18% disagreed, and 32% were unsure. As Morgan said when that result is sorted by voting intention it shows that 83% of National Party voters approve of the decision of their federal parliamentary representatives to oppose the voice – ‘Mainstream Australians are deeply concerned about the legal and cultural consequences of the proposed voice to parliament. This is why it is critically important that the debate about the voice is free and fair, and all sides are treated with respect and have their opinions heard.’

Some summer reading

Each of these three books I’ve read over the last few months and I’ve enjoyed them all. If you haven’t already been given a copy for Christmas (or if you haven’t bought one for yourself) you’ll be able to easily find them in bookshops or online.

The first is the final volume of David Kemp’s brilliant series Australian Liberalism. It’s ‘Consent of the People: Human Dignity through Freedom and Equality 1966-2022’. If you haven’t read any of the first four volumes that’s OK – you can go back to them later after reading this. ‘Consent of the People’ is a terrific discussion and analysis of what’s happened to Australia since the 1960s. You’ll know a lot of the history of the period (or hopefully you will) but even so you’ll gain some new insights into for example Whitlam and Fraser, and issues such as the rise of postmodernism and it’s influence on Australian politics. Nothing like this has been written about Australia. It is quite brilliant.

The second book to consider is ‘Wizards of Oz: How Oliphant and Florey helped win the war and shape the modern world’ by Brett Mason. It’s 400-odd pages but I would have read in just three or four sittings because it’s just so interesting. I actually wouldn’t have minded if it had gone another 400 pages. I came away convinced Mark Oliphant and Howard Florey are two of the four most significant Australians of the twentieth century. (The other two are John Monash and Rupert Murdoch – and if you were to ask me for a fifth I’d probably say Patrick White). ‘Wizards of Oz’ is a serious book, but it’s so nicely written that anyone over the age of say fourteen or fifteen will enjoy it and learn from it. Out of interest I asked Bella d’Abrera whether Mark Oliphant or Howard Florey are mentioned in the National Curriculum – no doubt you can guess her answer…

The third book is ‘Their Fiery Cross of Union: A Retelling of the Creation of the Australian Federation, 1889-1914’ by William Coleman. It’s unashamedly academic and not for young people but if you have any interest at all in federation you must read it. It completely turns on its head the idea that the history of federation is boring! Federation in the 1890s in Australia was what climate change is today – a project of the elites, for the elites (my words not the authors!) After reading ‘Their Fiery Cross’ you’ll never think of federation the same way.

Thank you for your support during the year and I look forward to talking with you again next year.

kind regards John