MAGAZINE NO. 157 [August 2023]
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
JOURNEYING ON THE EDGES: THE LAUNCH
OF THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY EREMOS MAGAZINE
by Stephen Webb 6
LIGHTNESS OF BEING by Toni Hassan 9
STRETCHING TOWARD BELIEF: EXPLORING OUR
PRE-RELIGIOUS GOD AWARENESS by Philip Carter 14
TO BE IN OR NOT TO BE IN: THE STRANGE
HISTORY OF THE WOMAN TAKEN IN ADULTERY
by Victor Branson 22
THE HEART by John Hanan 24
LOST IN TRANSLATION? JOHN BARTON’S
‘THE WORD: ON THE TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE’
& JEANETTE MATHEWS ‘READING THE MEGILLOT:
A LITERARY AND THEOLOGICAL COMMENTARY’
by Jane Foulcher 27
EREMOS INFORMATION AND MEMBERSHIP 35
By the time this editorial is published, we will be close to a referendum to change our Constitution. I suspect that most Australians see the Voice referendum as a matter of great significance for the spiritual health of our country.
I’m talking about the referendum with my daughter and son-in-law when my daughter quotes a recent article by the journalist Nicki Savva: ‘Not everyone who votes against the Voice is a racist, but all racists will be voting against it’. I don’t see the point of a statement like that: it suggests we shouldn’t act for something our conscience may tell us is right because we may not like the company we keep there. Bad company hasn’t stopped Pauline Hanson and Lidia Thorpe teaming up in an attempt to scupper the Voice.
While I strongly support the Voice, I mostly try to be fair, to respect the reasoning of those with whom we disagree. ‘I think it’s important to remember there are good reasons for voting No,’ I say, ‘even though we’ll be voting the other way.’
Greg, my son-in-law and a passionate supporter of the Voice, asks, ‘What are those reasons, then?’
I think for a moment, going through ‘those reasons’ in my head …
Well, there are many people who don’t believe any single race in this multi-cultural society should have the extra privilege of having the ear of executive government. But it’s not about race – it’s about indigeneity. The whole notion of ‘race’ could be seen as a construct, I suppose, but even putting that aside, race isn’t the focus here. True, we have many different ethnic groups in our society, but we have only one collection of indigenous peoples, and they’ve suffered dispossession, attempts at genocide through systematic violence and the removal of their children; they have ongoing lower life expectancy, higher incarceration rates, higher suicide rates, lower standards of living, lower levels of education, higher unemployment rates than the rest of us – by any means, it’s absurd to talk of our First Nations brothers and sisters getting some kind of advantage over the rest of us by the establishment of an advisory body to communicate directly with government.
Ah, but there’s another objection: they’re ‘peoples’, not ‘people’. This is Warren Mundine’s argument – that there are over three hundred nations among our Indigenous citizens, and it’s unrealistic to think that one body can represent them all. But can’t that be said of society in general? There are many different ethnic and social groups within Australian society but we vote for one government to represent us all. Why should we expect Indigenous society to be any different?
Then there’s Lidia Thorpe’s argument about Blak Sovereignty – she asserts that a treaty is more important in establishing the rightful place of Indigenous peoples in this country and a Voice runs the risk of extinguishing this possibility. I’ve tried to understand this argument but it makes no sense. Many colonised countries around the world have established the equivalent of the Voice for their indigenous populations and have gone on to make treaties with them as well. Why should it be any different for us?
And there’s the next objection – the Voice is only the first step. Indigenous leaders really want a treaty and consequent acquisition of land. Soon they’ll be after your house! I recall the same objection was raised on the advent of the Mabo decision and, as far as I’m aware, the country wasn’t bankrupted by the decision nor was there wholesale loss of property by the population in general. Of all the objections to the Voice, this one smacks of fear-mongering and has been soundly rebuked by a clear majority of legal experts.
Well, the Statement from the Heart talks of the Voice having the power to advise on matters affecting Indigenous peoples, but don’t all matters affect Indigenous peoples? Won’t they hold up judicial and parliamentary processes by having to advise in everything? But the work done for the Statement from the Heart by people such as Marcia Langton, Megan Davis and Thomas Mayo has already addressed this and assured us that the Voice will only advise on matters specifically related to Indigenous peoples. Do we really think they’re being disingenuous? Do we really not trust them?
OK, well what difference will it make to the problems of Indigenous peoples on the ground, remote communities and the like? We have no guarantee it won’t be just another money-wasting bureaucratic talk-fest. No, we don’t. But we’ve been throwing an awful lot of money at Indigenous issues for a long time and it doesn’t appear to be making much difference, does it? The latest surveys suggest that over 80% of Indigenous people are in favour of the Voice – can you recall any matter getting that amount of support in society in general?. Despite the objections of some high profile Indigenous people, that’s as close to unanimous as you could expect. Perhaps empowering Indigenous people to have some control over how they should be treated is worth a go, rather than continuing colonial assumptions that we know what’s best for them.
But why change the Constitution, which was written for everyone? Why not just legislate it? Fair point, but remember the Constitution was written at a time when the doctrine of terra nullius was commonly accepted, when Indigenous peoples were not included in census data and weren’t permitted to vote. Perhaps the Constitution wasn’t written for everyone after all. Perhaps we need not to treat it like Holy Scripture. We’ve seen the results of treating political documents as sacred in America’s obsession with gun rights, their fawning sanctification of the Second Amendment. And it needs to be in the Constitution – in the past, we’ve seen governments abolish rather than help reform indigenous bodies on a whim. Putting it in the Constitution shows we’re serious about equality in this country.
So where’s the detail? Detail? We’re talking about the Constitution here. The Constitution is a collection of principles. It leaves the legislation of principles to governments, which we can remove if we don’t like the way they legislate principle. A statement of recognition and a statement about an advisory body called the Voice is all that’s needed in the Constitution.
And what would Jesus do? Or Buddha? Or Mohammed? Would our great religious leaders really be so fearful about helping the downtrodden, the outcast?
‘Well,’ says Greg, ‘what are those reasons?’
‘Let me get back to you….’ I say.