More than one billion reasons to vote Yes for a Voice
The Daily Telegraph, 31 July 2023
Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome are pretty old civilisations, but they don’t have a patch on Australia’s First Peoples. By the time those civilisations were getting started, Indigenous people had been on this continent for tens of thousands of years.
Indigenous people refer to “everywhen” to describe the connections between past, present and future. And indeed, it’s hard to get your head around the concept of a people who have been here for more than 60 millennia.
What does 60,000 years mean? If every generation lasts 30 years, this means that two thousand generations of Indigenous people have dwelt on this continent.
Another way to think about this is to imagine how many Indigenous people have ever lived in Australia. Demographer Len Smith estimated that more than one billion Indigenous people walked these lands prior to European settlement.
Curious to see how this compared with the number of non-Indigenous people who have ever lived in Australia, I calculated that number at around 40 million.
So what if we gave equal moral weight to our ancestors? What if we could imagine that alongside us stood the ghosts of those who once trod this continent?
In that world, there would be 25 Indigenous people for every non-Indigenous person.
English philosopher GK Chesterton wrote that: “Tradition means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.”
The force of tradition has inspired conservatives for centuries. It is why conservatives often resist change – pointing out that our laws and customs reflect the accumulated wisdom of past generations. A love of tradition makes many conservatives vote ‘no’ to change.
In this case, the force of tradition should push us in the opposite direction. In the most recent Census, Indigenous Australians made up just one in 33 people. But over the broad sweep of history, Indigenous Australians comprise 25 out of every 26 people who have ever walked these lands.
An Indigenous Voice to Parliament is about two things: recognising the enormity of First Nations history, and listening to those who are affected by the decisions of parliament. Much has been written about listening, but recognition matters too. As you enter the voting booth later this year, take a moment to think about the remarkable history of Indigenous Australians on these lands. For those of us who are not Indigenous, it is a true privilege to share the continent with the oldest continuously living culture in the world. Traditionalists should vote yes.
Our constitution should acknowledge a billion people, spread across more than two thousand generations. Their moral weight provides a billion reasons to vote yes – so we can walk forward, together.