Later this year (2023) Australia we’ll be asked to vote in a referendum on whether we should change our constitution to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Parliament.
This is a moment not to be underestimated, rather a moment to join in on, a moment to get deeply educated on, to shine a light on, to embrace and to celebrate because, if successful it will be a mighty move towards a more inclusive and just country. Something I like to believe most Australians want and support. This article is written for everyone, but I have specifically written it for non-Indigenous Australians in mind with the hope that they’ll take the time to learn the facts about what this referendum means.
What are we being asked to vote on?
The exact referendum question that will be put to Australians later in 2023 (likely to be in October) 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?”
But what does that even mean? Lets take a step back to catch up…. The Voice is the result of The Uluru Statement from the Heart which “…is an invitation to the Australian people from First Nations Australians. It asks Australians to walk together to build a better future by establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution, and the establishment of a Makarrata* Commission for the purpose of treaty making and truth-telling.” You can read the actual Statement From The Heart here.
But what would The Voice actually look like? It will be an advisory group of First Nations people that provides advice to the government on issues that impact them directly. That’s it. Importantly, the government has complete veto rights to not adopt any of that advice.
A few things that need clearing up…
- There is a lot of fear-mongering in the mainstream Australian media over this referendum, accusations that The Voice will give First Nations People power over parliament to do whatever they want. This is 500% incorrect. The Voice is only an advisory group to establish permanent representation and advice to the parliament of the day. The parliament will have absolute right to veto any advice from The Voice and will not be under any control, because it’s simply an advisory body. Full stop. I urge you to cast some very thorough critical thinking over media from all sources to make sure you have the facts straight and not some distorted view.
- The Voice comes from First Nations Australian People and most definitely not from any politicians in Canberra. It is the result of extensive consultation by First Nations People with First Nations People across the country.
- Why does The Voice have to be included in the constitution – can’t we just legislate it? Well we could, but it’d be a sure thing that it’d be removed by a future government. There have been many examples of this in recent history. Enshrining The Voice into the constitution means it’s a fixed body that can’t be abolished without a referendum. This thorough article by Yawuru man and Labor senator, Patrick Dodson maps this out clearly.
- To people who say we should have Treaty first instead of just The Voice which isn’t enough. Regional Treaties are actually already underway and happening in a range of regions across Australia. Treaty experts say Treaties will take decades to develop, why wait for an uncertain amount of time for this to happen when we have the opportunity to get The Voice established which could actually help inform current and future Treaty processes (Thomas Mayo, listen from around 36 minutes).
- For those concerned that establishing The Voice means that First Nations People are ceding sovereignty. This is simply not possible as the only way sovereignty can be ceded is through a Treaty which First Nations people can refuse to cede (Thomas Mayo, listen from around 36 minutes).
- Update: What about the fact not all First Nations people want The Voice? That’s true, there isn’t one single unified view amongst First Nations people. But polling in 2023 records that 80 – 83% of First Nations people do support it. This useful article provides more detail on this, plus addresses additional points.
Is it likely to be successful?
At the time of writing, national polling has the ‘No’ vote slightly in front. The way this referendum will be successful is if you and me and all your networks join in on the ‘Yes’ campaign and help it happen. How can we do this? There are a great bunch of ideas here, but at the very least we can do two things really well.
- Educate yourself so you know the facts and can debunk misinformation. See the list of resources below – I promise you, if you take the time to read and listen to them you’ll have everything you need.
- Talk about this campaign with all your networks and make sure they know the facts.
You can also support the Yes campaign by buying a copy of this book and sharing it around your networks.
I look at this referendum as a brilliant opportunity to nudge our country towards cultural togetherness. Is it perfect? No. Will it fix everything for First Nation Australians? Again, no. But it is the opportunity currently in front of us that we can take and build on. We have nothing to loose and everything to gain. So when voting time roles around I’m looking forward to voting a wholehearted YES.
Get educated and learn the facts
- Yes23 – Referendum Yes campaign website full of resources, including an FAQ page with lots of great information.
- Learn more from the source with the Uluru Statement From The Heart here
- Listen to Kaurareg and Kalkalgal, Erubamle Torres Strait Islander man Thomas Mayo talk about The Voice here.
- Listen to Thomas Mayo and Kerrie O’Brien discuss their book The Voice To Parliament here.
- Professor Megan Davis on ABC TV’s Australian Story: A Cobble Cobble woman from south east Queensland and of south-sea Islander descent (Vanuatu) – watch her on ABC TV’s Australian Story here, or you can’t access that link, read about it here.
- The Voice To Parliament Handbook
*Makarrata is a word in the Yolngu language meaning a coming together after a struggle, facing the facts of wrongs and living again in peace.
*The top image is from a t-shirt to support the Yes campaign from here.