The Voice Referendum on 14th October is fast approaching, and there’s still a lot of questions, confusion and misinformation surrounding the issue. In today’s blog we’re going to clear up some of the facts to help you make an informed decision come voting day.
The Voice to Parliament, or the Voice is a proposed advisory group made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide counsel to the Government and Parliament on issues that affect their communities. This advisory group will be made up of members who are chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their respective communities and they will serve for a set period of time.
The concept of The Voice was created through dialogue with thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and tens of thousands of non-Indigenous Australians.
Unlike regular legislation that can be changed or abolished when a new Government comes to power, enshrining the Voice in the Constitution would mean that the Voice would be protected and remain in place when the Government changes. In order for the Constitution to change, the proposal must be put to the public via a referendum. If the referendum is passed, it would be the first time in history that Australia’s First Nations people are recognised in the Constitution.
The question that will be on your polling paper is:
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?
In order for a constitutional referendum to pass, it requires a double majority. This means that for it to be successful, the majority of Australians must vote yes nationally, plus the majority of voters in the majority of states (QLD, NSW, WA, SA and Tas) must also vote yes.
If the referendum passes, there will be discussions between Indigenous communities, the Parliament and the wider public to determine the Voice design. Legislation regarding the Voice will go through “standard parliamentary processes to ensure adequate scrutiny by elected representatives in both houses of Parliament,” (Voice Principles).
The Government has published Key Principles about the Voice design which have been agreed on by the First Nations Referendum Working group. These Principles encompass the following points:
- The Voice will provide independent advice to Parliament and Government
- It will be chosen by First Nations people based on the wishes of local communities
- It will be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
- It will be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful, culturally informed, gender balanced, and include youth
- It will be accountable and transparent
- It will work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures
- It will not have a program delivery function
- It will not have a veto power
The Voice is purely an advisory body, therefore the Voice will not have the authority to create laws. They have no veto power and cannot overrule a decision that the Government or Parliament makes. Further, the Voice will not provide advice on all issues, only those that impact First Nations people such as Indigenous education and healthcare.
Lack of details
Some proponents of the No vote are concerned about the lack of details about how the Voice would operate. However as constitutional expert Anne Twomey pointed out, “Constitutions are not places where you want to freeze details. It is appropriate to leave it to parliament as this gives greater flexibility to adjust for future needs.” The matter we are voting on is whether or not to give Parliament the authority to design the Voice.
Those interested in details can read more on the Voice Design Principles.
An advisory body risks dysfunctional Government
Some No campaigners have raised the concern that an advisory body would risk dysfunction and delayed decision making in Government. However the Government already has many advisory groups that operate like the Voice. As Peter Hartcher recently demonstrated, “Name the subject and there’s an advisory group on it.”
Existing advisory groups include the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), Medicare Services Advisory Committee, Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, Foreign Investment Review Board, Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce, the National Plan Advisory Group concerned with ending violence against women and children, and many more.
Consulting with Indigenous people who best know the needs of their own communities lowers the risk of wasting time and money implementing programs that are ill-fitting and ineffective.
The Voice does not rule out the possibility of a treaty in the future. Voting No doesn’t imply your support for an alternative, such as a treaty. It signals acceptance of the status quo.
There’s already Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are members of Parliament
They are not permanent and can be voted out. A Constitution change would ensure an ongoing presence of Indigenous people providing advice to the Government on matters affecting their communities.
Not all First Nations people support the Voice
Like the wider population of Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are diverse and their opinions vary. However the vast majority of Indigenous people do support the Voice. Two different polls have shown that between 80-83% of First Nations people support it.
Further InfoFor those interested in learning more, we recommend reading:
- Reconciliation Australia's Voice to Parliament information page
- The Guardian's fact-checked Yes and No pamphlets
Header photo by Clive Scollay