Can woke corporates tell us what the Voice will achieve? – The Australian Financial Review

The federal government released proposed constitutional amendments to implement the Voice to coincide with the prime minister’s speech at the Garma Festival. I was also at Garma and spoke with a number of Aboriginal people about it while there. Aside from those involved in campaigning for it, not one Aboriginal person told me they were supportive.

Most Indigenous people I speak to don’t have the first clue what the Voice will achieve; many regard it with utmost cynicism.

This is consistent with the many conversations I’ve had with Indigenous people from across Australia in a range of settings, from business meetings and events, to conversations with elders on country, to catch-ups with friends and family. What I’ve heard consistently when the Voice comes up is people telling me they oppose it or don’t understand it or think it will just be a forum for the usual suspects to benefit from government largesse.

The campaign for the Voice is very different from the campaign for the 1967 Referendum.

Before the 1967 Referendum, Indigenous Australians didn’t have the same status under the Constitution as everyone else. No, we weren’t classified as flora and fauna or universally banned from voting. These are myths. But we were excluded from sections of the Constitution with the result that state governments continued to control their Indigenous populations after Federation in ways they didn’t control everyone else.

This control was suffocating and prevented Indigenous Australians from getting ahead. For example, from the 1880s to 1910, many Aboriginal families across NSW set up their own independent farms on reserves and began to prosper. In 1909, the NSW Aborigines Protection Act gave the Aborigines Protection Board sweeping powers to control Aboriginal lives and much of this independence was removed.


Protection regimes existed in all Australian states and territories. They were the primary governing legislation for Indigenous Australians, controlling all aspects of life; regulating movement, controlling finances (including confiscating wages), allowing removal of children at will and enforcing segregation.

Aboriginal people campaigned against these protection regimes for decades. My grandfather joined the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (AAPA) in the 1920s. Passionately opposed to the Protection Board and its actions taking Aboriginal land and children, he wrote countless letters to authorities (for which he built a desk especially), and hosted meetings at home where there was great frustration and condemnation of the Protection Board’s actions and a great sense of urgency about changing it.

The AAPA was one of several Aboriginal activist movements against state protection regimes. All wanted Aboriginal people independent of government control, able to make decisions about their own lives, have economic independence and use land as an economic base and have the same opportunities as other Australians.

This campaign against state protection regimes became focused on removing express exclusions of “aboriginal natives” in the Constitution. By removing provisions that excluded us, we would have the same constitutional status as other Australians; no longer a special group of people managed by the states.

My older siblings – Ann, Olive, Kaye and Charlie – were heavily involved in the campaign for the 1967 Referendum. As a child, I remember them talking about it at the dinner table and their campaign planning meetings in the living room. This was when I first met Charles Perkins and John Moriarty who made a huge impression on me.

On the night of the 1967 referendum, family and friends gathered at our house to watch the vote tally on television with a mood of great anticipation and excitement; we cheered when we saw it would be carried with a landslide “yes”.


The campaign for the Voice is nothing like the 1967 Referendum.

In 1967, we knew why we wanted the Constitution amended and the outcome we wanted to achieve. Most Indigenous people I speak to don’t have the first clue what the Voice will achieve; many regard it with utmost cynicism.

For decades before 1967, Indigenous families sat around dinner tables talking about what needed to change and why. The only people sitting around dinner tables talking about the Voice are woke corporates and well-heeled people from the metropolitan suburbs.

The 1967 Referendum signified a country doing away with segregation. The Voice will see segregation introduced. It could also see decisions by traditional owners for their own country undermined by an interfering, bureaucratic overlay.

The campaign for the Voice is coming from Australia’s elites: woke corporate, the liberal political classes and Indigenous academia. And they will campaign for it whether the majority of Indigenous people like it or not.

My plea to the Australian business community is this: stop seeing the Voice as easy ESG points; sit down with Indigenous people who oppose the Voice and try to understand why.

Nyunggai Warren Mundine, AO, is managing director of Nyungga Black Group and director of the Indigenous Forum at The Centre for Independent Studies. He is co-editor with Peter Kurti of Beyond Belief? Thinking again about the Voice to Parliament to be published by Connor Court in November.

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