TUMBY BAY - Making sense of the overwhelming No vote in last Saturday’s referendum on an Indigenous Voice is difficult because the water has been so terribly muddied.
On the face of it the failure of the referendum appears to have been caused by multiple factors. Among those factors three seem to stand out.
The first was the unexpected strength of the undercurrent of racism running in the Australian community.
The second was the deliberate tactic of the referendum’s opponents to ‘flood the zone with shit’.
This term, courtesy of Donald Trump’s erstwhile ally, Steve Bannon, means to put out so much false, meaningless and absurd information that the public can no longer tell what is real and what is false.
The two main mediums for this ‘flooding’ was social media and the conservative press, particularly that owned by Rupert Murdoch.
The third factor was the deliberate politicisation of the referendum by the LNP Coalition.
Their hope was to simply score a hit on Anthony Albanese regardless of the merits of the question or the ramifications of the outcome.
Some pundits have also suggested that Albanese’s mishandling of the referendum process also contributed to its failure.
This is plausible but when you consider the simplicity of the question and the simplicity of Labor’s undertaking to take it to a referendum it is a difficult argument to sustain.
Although calls for an audit of Indigenous funding are beginning to echo in the conservative press no one seems to have mentioned this as a factor in the failure of the referendum.
The innate distrust that white people in Australia have about how large amounts of government money are spent on the welfare of Indigenous people is also worth considering as a factor.
While the Voice was specifically designed as an advisory body without any funding powers, people still managed to conflate its purpose with the ineffectiveness of past funding programs and the Indigenous people involved in running them.
It’s a point that the Yes campaign failed to anticipate and counter, probably because the system failures are indefensible.
A large amount of money has historically been poured into Indigenous welfare programs with very little to show for it, especially at the grassroots level.
The inference is that the so-called elites who run the programs cream most of the money off the top before it has a chance to reach the people who need it.
Creaming money seems to be a frailty of welfare organisations whether they are black or white.
It could be argued that this incorrect conflation of purpose with the Voice is what killed it in the end.
Put in simple terms the Australian community seemed very willing to acknowledge Indigenous Australians in the constitution as our first peoples but misunderstood or mistrusted the purpose of the Voice as an advisory body, particularly in a form that would require another constitutional change to undo it.
The framers of the Voice wanted the advisory body enshrined in the constitution so that future hostile governments could not abolish it but the people of Australia mistrusted that idea because of the sorry record of such advisory bodies as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commission (ATSIC) in the past.
The irony is that if ATSIC and its predecessors had been effectively run by honest and dedicated people the Voice may not have been deemed necessary.