The Australian government has announced a referendum, likely to take place at the end of this year, amending the Australian constitution to include a First Nations Voice to Parliament.
The ‘Voice to Parliament’ is a new body that is being proposed by the Australian government through a referendum to the Australian public. This body would be protected by the constitution and should enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mobs to be more involved in decision making within the Australian government, through the ability to provide advice on policies and projects that impact our communities.
The call for a Voice to Parliament came about through the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Denise Bowden, CEO of Yothu Yindi, signing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in Central Australia. Wikipedia.
Statement from the Heart
In May 2017 around 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates from across Australia gathered for the National Convention on Constitutional Recognition. The aim of the convention was to develop a ‘common position on a proposal to amend the constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’.
This was a complex discussion with a handful of delegates from Victoria and New South Wales walking out with the support of others after they felt their concerns were no being heard. They were worried about the possible loss of sovereignty that came with being recognised in the constitution as well as the issue of a treaty process not being formally guaranteed. Despite this, the convention continued and the delegates remaining released the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The statement is a call by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for constitutional recognition through a voice to parliament to ensure real and practical change occurs in Australia. It also covered the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to cover the process of treaty-making and truth-telling.
The current government have proposed the question ‘Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?’
The proposed amendments to the constitution are:
- There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
- The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to Parliament and the Executive Government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers, and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
What would the Voice to Parliament look like/do?
The model for the Voice to Parliament has been in development since 2017. The process has included ‘Indigenous-run dialogues, a parliamentary inquiry, and a government-led consultation’ (https://ulurustatement.org/education/the-voice-model/).
At this time it seems that the actual body of the Voice is to be determined after the referendum and will be done so by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. You can also check out ulurustatement.org as they have included a list of common design principles on their website.
The Australian Electorate Commission have made this short video explaining what a referendum is.
How does a referendum work?
In Australia, the only way to change the constitution is through a referendum. Before a referendum can be held, there must be a proposed change that passes through both houses of the Federal Parliament or passed twice in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Once the date is set for a referendum Australians can then vote either YES or NO depending on their stance.
All Australians over 18 are required to vote in a referendum. You can check your enrolment status here.
Once everyone has voted ballots will be counted. For a referendum to pass it must achieve a double majority. That is:
- A national majority of voters across the country
- A majority of voters in a majority of states (at least 4 out of the 6 six states)
So how should I vote?
The only options to vote are YES and NO. However deciding which of these to go with might be difficult or confusing as many in the community are divided.
There is a YES campaign for those who believe that this will pave the way for consultancy, advocacy and change.
There is a community NO campaign. This is mob who feel that this erases the work being done for treaty, or who feel the process is not clear enough or who do not agree with constitutional recognition. Unfortunately, there are many racist groups/politicians who are also advocating NO but that doesn’t invalidate the genuine reasons community may not align with a YES vote.
Then there are those who don’t know. That might be because you don’t have enough information or feel conflicted because you see validity in both sides. It is best to continue researching, asking questions, and learning more about the process so that you can come to a decision.
Deadly Story will not tell you how you should vote. It is important that you are provided with accessible information so that you can make that decision for yourself.
Sources & Further Reading
Much of the source’s blow have been used in writing this article however we have also included articles that you may find an interesting read.
- Support a Voice to Parliament, Reconciliation Australia
- Lorena Allam (Gamilaraay and Yawalaraay) and Josh Butler 2022, Voice referendum: who’s behind the yes and no campaigns and how do they plan to convince Australia? The Guardian
- Referendum on an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, National Indigenous Australians Agency
- Calla Wahlquist 2017, Constitutional recognition and why the Uluru talks matter – explainer, The Guardian
- Lorena Allam (Gamilaraay and Yawalaraay) 2022, What is the Indigenous voice to parliament and how would it work?, The Guardian
- Kelly Menzel (Ngadjuri) 2022, It’s our Voice – So let us speak, IndigenousX
- Natalie Cromb (Gamilaraay) 2022, So whose ‘Voice’ is it anyway?, IndigenousX
- Luke Pearson (Gamilaroi) 2023, The Voice – things I am worried about and a few other thoughts along the way, IndigenousX
- Dr Dani Larkin (Bundjalung, Kungarykani) 2021, Silencing the Voice: How government is failing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, IndigenousX
- Pat Anderson (Alyawarre) & Paul Komesaroff 2022, Why a First Nations Voice should come before Treaty, The Conversation