Two opposing Voice to Parliament advocates have squabbled over the upcoming referendum and its comparisons to a now defunct Indigenous advisory body.
The row on the ABC’s Q+A program began when chief executive for activist group GetUp Larissa Baldwin-Roberts took issue with Senator Paul Scarr’s comparisons between the Voice and the abolished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
Set up by the Hawke government, ATSIC was abolished in 2004 by then Prime Minister John Howard who said that “the experiment in elected representation for Indigenous people has been a failure” due to a number of controversies.
“Why would a government remove it?” the Liberal National Party Senator said over interjections from Ms Baldwin-Roberts and the show’s host Patricia Karvelas.
“Because it was corrupt,” he continued.
Ms Baldwin-Roberts attempted to jump in, but Senator Scarr continued on, saying that “ATSIC was abolished on a partisan basis, on the basis it wasn’t working”.
The activist shot back that the Senator’s ATSIC claim was “rubbish”, which drew his ire.
“You can talk about misinformation but you want to be careful in terms of when you come back and accuse other people of saying rubbish stuff,” he while Ms Baldwin-Roberts continued to try interrupt.
“So if we’re going to have a respectful debate around this as [host Patricia Karvelas] said, ATSIC was abolished because it was corrupt, ineffective and it didn’t represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
The activist immediately shot back, saying that it was “the story that you tell”.
“One of the things you hear overwhelmingly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is the last representative body that we felt like we had any ability to talk to each other and to government was ATSIC,” she said.
“There were very good parts about ATSIC and the stories that are told about it is not a fair telling around what happened.”
She went on to accuse the Senator of “scare mongering” before the host jumped in with a question of her own for Mr Scarr.
“When there are corrupt Members of Parliament, why don’t you call for the abolition of Parliament?” Ms Karvelas asked, earning laughter and applause from the live audience.
Senator Scarr did not have time to answer the question before actor and activist Madeleine West.
“The argument that we‘re having at this table, even though we’re all here, wanting to disseminate facts, is not dissimilar to what is turning people away from the issue,” she said.
“…there is so much argument, there‘s so much backbiting because this is an issue that should be uniting us and yet it is dividing us.
“And my gut feels that the Australian public wants to do what is right, they want to ensure that people are heard. But by the same token we will revert when we‘re confronted, when we’re confused, when we don’t understand we will revert to conservatism.”