Brexit and voice referendums
Today is the eve of the Voice referendum in Australia. In my life I struggle to think of a more politically divisive campaign in Australia. I have seen this be an extremely divisive topic that's split people, and needlessly so. Unfortunately there's many political characters in Australia who see themselves as "community organizers" who in reality are just in the business of organizing the communities grievances for their own personal benefits What disturbs me is the number of people who simply can't see the other side of the issue at all. I sense a deep wilful ignorance on the part of many, since understanding the opposing arguments in this referendum is really quite easy if you can emotionally detach from it for a moment. This divisiveness is a concern because nations that get too divided, to the point where citizens can't even entertain opposing ideas, tend to destabilize quickly. We unfortunately see geopolitical examples of this in the world right now that have led to particularly gruesome wars. Division and dehumanization is the first step towards things like the Rwandan genocide, it never seems like much at the beginning but when these thing gather momentum they can destroy whole nations.
The other day I was watching some interviews about the post-brexit situation from around 2019 or so. The most notable thing about the Brexit referendum is that the populace voted to leave the EU but then many politicians didn't want to follow the populaces will, this caused a rather large political issue that divided people even further. What I noticed is that the Brexit referendum came at a large societal cost.
Australia inherited many of customs and traditions of British parliamentary based government but there were some significant differences. A crucial difference between Australia and Britain is that Australia has a constitution and Britain does not. This means the British government is less constrained than Australia's when it comes to legal powers, but in practice some of these differences may be more of a formality until they are explicitly tested.
In Britain, just like in Australia, the situation that was put to a popular vote could have been resolved directly via legislation without need for a non binding referendum. An elected government with the mandate for change could have implemented the legislation for Brexit or alternatively not changed things if the mandate from the populace was to remain in the EU. Then when the referendum was run and the people voted to leave the EU a political problem emerged. The referendum wasn't binding and much legislation didn't exist if a leave vote were to occur. A parliament might have to create legislation that its representative members did not wish to pass. This effectively can create a political crisis rather quickly. What were the legislators to do with this popular position if they disagreed with it? If the legislators didn't support the popular position they had many options to defy the will of the people as expressed by the referendum. They could stall and avoid doing anything, or introduce greatly watered down legislation that might contradict the spirit of the vote. However if the legislators supported the popular position the referendum wouldn't have been necessary in the first place. Such a referendum shows the general populace clearly that they don't live in a place with direct democracy at the core of government. These days the average person has many gaps of knowledge about the system of government and why various options have good parts and bad parts. Effective governance is a very careful balance between competing demands, but all those careful balances are easy to ignore when confronted with a situation that appears to just be anti-democratic. It creates a direct conflict between systems of direct democracy and representative democracy in the minds of the people. This is a large cost to bear because a large part of what makes a system of government work effectively is that the people over which that system governs support the system. Anything that contributes to the breaking down the populaces support for the system of government is going to be destabilizing. The Brexit referendum was held on the 23rd of June 2016, leading to the resignation of the then Prime Minster David Cameron who was in favor of the UK remaining in the EU. The date originally slated for the exit was 29 March 2019, but by the time that rolled around there was a deadlock in the parliament which was only resolved by a general election, showing again that the parliamentary majority was the main thing that mattered in the system of government as it practically operated.
The issue with the voice referendum in Australia is that this is a referendum that simply doesn't need to happen. In Australia there's a cabinet position for indigenous affairs already, which shows that the government already has the legal authority to deal with these issues if it decided to. The constitution is a legal document that deals with the structure of government, policy should be something decided by the legislative and executive branches of the government. In any case putting the judiciary branch of the government into a position where they must decide on policy matters is often dangerous because the judiciary may not have the mandate behind it to implement those changes. If the mandate for change exists for indigenous affairs, we as a nation, should do something about it. In Scandinavia we saw the introduction of Sámi parliaments, Norway created one in 1989, Sweden followed in 1993 and Finland in 1996. None of these countries required a constitutional changes for these advisory bodies to be formed. Likewise in Australia we don't need a constitutional change to introduce something like this. But it should raise some questions as to why there is such an insistence from some groups that the constitution needs changing.