The Voice: Beware the Shiny Bauble
About Robbie Katter
Robbie Katter is the Leader of the Katter’s Australian Party, and the MP for Traeger, the largest electorate in Queensland.
The idea that there is a silver bullet to solving the deep-seated challenges facing First Australian communities, especially in rural Australia, while well-intentioned is naïve and ill-informed.
Presenting The Voice as the panacea to all problems relating to our First Australians is a cruel and misleading approach and avoids the great problems they confront. Not only would it reinforce a divided Australian culture, but it also would create an effective diversion from true solutions.
My experience of working with government in this space leads me to question what’s the point of having even the greatest voice if there is no one willing to ‘listen and act’ at the other end?
I think it would be fair to say there would be a direct correlation between the decline in support for The Voice the closer you get geographically to First Australian communities.
This is to say that most of those living amongst or beside these problems are already getting their hands dirty trying to fix things not just create another office to talk about what they’re going to do.
I claim no authority in this area, but my current work and background provide a fair argument for basic competency in it.
My family settled in North West Queensland around 1890, and I am proud to say they are described as being the first local family businesses in the small cattle and mining town of Cloncurry to employ Aboriginal staff in a store on the main street. This was a very controversial and very deliberate move for my family at the time.
My grandfather also proudly removed the segregation bar in the local cinema promptly after taking ownership.
The area has been continually represented by my family in politics for 57 years.
A politician aspiring to be egalitarian, with these roots, must gravitate towards the challenges in First Australian communities as they arguably require more political assistance than any other group.
I do not pretend to be someone trying to be Indigenous or act as their spokesperson, but simply a servant of them, heavily burdened by their issues.
Coupled with this background is the fact that I deliberately continue to live in the North West (of Queensland) and Gulf, where we don’t talk about multi culturalism, we live it. This is a place where words are subordinate to actions.
The Voice to parliament proposes that it will more effectively address the issues in Canberra. This is based on the critical assumption that the government will suddenly become better listeners and blast into action.
Sadly, regardless of who makes up The Voice, no one could believe politicians are suddenly going to start acting on many of these things they already know about.
Regrettably, we have had a very recent test run for the willingness of government to listen and act on burning issues facing our First Australian communities. Not surprisingly, they failed miserably.
I refer to the recent bill put to parliament by the Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) (for the third time in nine years) on amending the Blue Card system to make it fit for purpose in remote Indigenous communities.
Blue Cards are necessary to secure most of the jobs in these communities and are about protecting children.
But the existing system has someone in Brisbane signing off on people thousands of kilometres away.
In the KAP Bill, we proposed that Local Justice Groups make the decision in some situations on who can work with their kids in their own community instead. This is provided they have not committed any disqualifying offences.
The State Labor Government response in Parliament was that: if you deliver Blue Card decision making back to the community then it will compromise the safety of the children…and there you have it!
A very deliberate and well considered rejection of a solution to a fundamental and pervasive problem in Aboriginal communities. The Blue Cards could very well be the greatest barrier to employment in these communities and the government continue to pretend it doesn’t exist.
The voices of every Aboriginal mayor in Queensland that I spoke to (which was most) backed this strongly and called for it along with most organisations working in these areas.
If they are not listening to the mayors of all the communities in Queensland now why should we expect any difference down the track?
Another significant way that the government could be improving prosperity for our First Australians right now is title deeds.
If you live in any town or city in Australia today you can purchase a house with a title deed except if it is a First Australian community who are specifically excluded from this right.
This must be one of the most reprehensible, prejudicial oversights in policies towards First Australians that remains deliberately unattended.
Proudly, my father as State Minister was the first to ever offer title deeds in these communities which are still referred to as Katter Leases.
In all my time in and around politics I haven’t seen the same activists, academics and urban elitists who are backing The Voice belting on the doors of Parliament for Blue Cards or title deeds.
The desperate need for action in First Australian communities is increasing and putting more people in Canberra is not the answer. Many of the answers are sitting right under the decision makers’ noses right now, but they are either incapable of making a decision or just unwilling to.
Giving a new collection of people a voice on top of the existing leaders and representatives is unlikely to make a lick of difference.
I recall the words of an Indigenous friend of mine who served in the Queensland Parliament and who after leaving parliament said to me, “I now realise that I was always in the wrong faction of the Labor Party. I was in the Left and they are more racist than anyone. They still want black fellas to live under trees and chase goanna. They don’t realise there is an emerging black middle class who want their own house and job in the mines.”
Change starts with you