Voting in a referendum is community engagement at a national scale. The Indigenous Voice to Parliament has been a topic of current public debate as referendum day gets closer. It is important to consider the history of the Voice, its function and the process of the referendum in order to stay informed and make a decision that reflects our current values as a nation.
What is the purpose/function of the Voice?
In line with the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the Voice enshrines Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People as the original owners of the land. The Voice will also function as a permanent government body that can only be revoked by another referendum. This means it is not vulnerable to changing politics and policies like other Indigenous advisory committees have been in the past.
While there are Indigenous MPs and Senators, there is no Indigenous advisory body to parliament. Current Indigenous politicians were not voted in by only Indigenous people. Representatives in the Voice will be voted in by Indigenous people/communities representing their diverse needs. They will not have to adhere to the views of a political party, unlike current Indigenous politicians.
The Voice will not have veto power in parliament. The progressive side of the no campaign see the Voice as futile and want to see truth telling and treaty being prioritized. Treaty is, by definition, a legally binding agreement. Some Indigenous people also don’t want constitutional recognition because it’s part of a colonial legal system that has continually been oppressive and destructive to the lives and wellbeing of First Peoples. Gunnai, Gunditjamara and Djab Wurrung woman Senator Lydia Thorpe is a prominent Indigenous politician who is on the progressive side of the ‘no’ campaign. She says it is an easy way to fake progress without making any real change for First Peoples.
What is a referendum?
A referendum is a national vote regarding a change to the Commonwealth Constitution. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albernese announced 14th of October, 2023 as the referendum day. We will be asked to vote on whether there should be an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
Voting will be conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) like with elections. Everyone aged 18 or over will be legally required to vote at a venue like a local community center or school. Unlike state and federal elections, lines are anticipated to move quickly meaning that it won’t eat into too much of your Saturday. You will only be given one ballot which will read:
A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
Do you approve this proposed alteration?
And you will fill in a box writing ‘yes’ if you agree or ‘no’ if you disagree. Simple as that.
In order for the referendum to pass, it has to have a majority of votes for the proposed change Australia wide, as well as a majority in at least 4 out of the six states. Northern Territory and ACT are counted in the Australia wide vote but not in the latter.
Do all Indigenous Australians support the Voice?
As already discussed, not all Indigenous people agree on the Voice. According to 2023 polls, however, it has the support of 80-83% of Indigenous Australians. It is also important to recognise the diverse experiences and aspirations of First People and challenge the assumption that any minority is going to have a singular view on an issue.
“I know the Voice won’t fix everything overnight but I feel like it’s the opening of a pathway to make sure we are included in and respected in-decision making on issues that impact us.”
– Ex AFL player Eddie Betts, who has connections to the Gubrun People of the Kalgoorlie Goldfields and Wirangu/Kokotha People of the Far-West Coast of South Australia.