As discussions about the Voice to Parliament continue to stir emotions in Australia, Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan has urged political leaders and the media to steer clear of making race the focus of the Voice to parliament debate, despite the Voice being a race-based change to the nation's constitution.
Tan, in an alarming assertion, warned that centring the debate around race could fortify racial biases, putting Indigenous Australians at risk of discrimination and scorn.
However race is an unavoidable aspect of both the 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns, with critics on both sides arguing that the nation must be able to openly debate the merits of a race-based change to the country's constitution if Australians are to effectively vote in a referrendum later this year.
Following a passionate parliamentary exchange last week where Opposition Leader Peter Dutton professed that the Voice could instigate racial tension, Commissioner Tan emphasised the necessity for politicians to prevent the dialogue from degenerating into racial bickering.
Tan expressed apprehension over racialised debates, stating:
"This sort of discourse is always alarming. It should never be condoned as it can potentially escalate, emboldening individuals to commence a journey they should refrain from."
Although Tan didn't single out Dutton or directly respond to his speech on the Constitution alteration bill, he disagreed with Dutton's assertions, calling for considered deliberation, particularly from leaders, regarding their commentary.
"Individuals should not face the threat of being assaulted, maligned, or typecast because of their identity," Tan argued, countering Dutton's assertion that the Voice would permanently segregate Australia by race and grant Indigenous Australians undue advantages over non-Indigenous Australians.
Challenging the notion of the referendum being a racial issue, Tan argued:
"It is not about race, but it can be perceived as such by how it is represented and promoted."
He strongly advocated that the Voice does not incite racism or racialise Australia. Instead, he believes it empowers Indigenous people to participate in Australian democracy without granting special rights to any group.
However, Tan's viewpoint contrasts starkly with Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay's, who contended that the proposed alteration infringes on the fundamental human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination.
Despite this internal disagreement, the Australian Human Rights Commission, consisting of seven commissioners, has officially backed the Voice to Parliament, stating it aligns with human rights principles.
In the latest turn of events, Dutton has switched his criticisms of the Voice from legal uncertainties to racial inequality, mirroring the arguments of prominent No campaigners Warren Mundine and CLP Senator Jacinta Price.
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney reproached Dutton for propagating misinformation about the Voice, while leading Voice campaigner Megan Davis appealed for fairness and decency in the ongoing debate.
Dutton's office has rejected Burney's accusations and argued the 'Yes' side was unfairly vilifying Australians who don't support the Voice. Kerrynne Liddle, the only Indigenous senator from the Liberal Party, sided with Dutton, believing the Voice could potentially divide the nation.