Voice To Parliament:
Establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in Parliament

At the end of 2023, Australia is set to have a Referendum to vote on whether to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament. The Voice to Parliament will act as an advising body on political agendas, particularly those that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

Here at Evolve Communities, we believe the Voice to Parliament is a topic of relevance to our work towards Practical Reconciliation. Our co-Directors, Aunty Munya Andrews and Carla Rogers, believe establishing a Voice to Parliament would be a step in the right direction toward Australian reconciliation. However, it is important to understand that the Indigenous community is as diverse as any other and not all First Nations people feel the same way about the referendum. While some people support this Indigenous Voice, others have reservations and concerns about having a Voice in Parliament. It’s crucial that we acknowledge and respect everyone’s perspectives regarding the referendum. 

Recognising this diversity of Australia’s Indigenous people, we have always encouraged our Allies to seek out a range of First Nations people to listen to and learn from. When it comes to voting in the Referendum, we strongly encourage people to do their own research, learn about the Voice, including the strides we have taken to reach this point, and listen to a variety of different Indigenous perspectives, so we can all make an informed decision that aligns with our own values and helps us move forward, together as a nation. This article will give you an overview on a Voice to Parliament and can be a starting point for learning more about the referendum. You can also seek out news and other resources to help you learn more about the Voice.

What Is The Voice to Parliament?

A Voice to Parliament is a body of Indigenous representatives from across the country who provide advice to the Australian Parliament and Government on laws and policies that have a particular impact on the families and communities of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

The Voice to Parliament would be separate from the Parliament and would take on a responsibility to inform, advise, and assist politicians and legislators in making legislation on areas such as health, education, employment, and other issues in which Indigenous communities are at a disadvantage. A Voice to Parliament would help the First Nations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a voice in public policy. The goal of Voice to Parliament is to ensure that key lawmakers address problems in a way that works and brings in positive and inclusive change to the community.

What Will The Voice to Parliament Achieve?

A Voice to Parliament achieves two important things: a constitutional recognition of Indigenous persons and a secure position for First Nations people in the country’s decision-making processes. The Voice to Parliament solidifies a seat for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to take part in the policies that affect Australians, and can therefore contribute insights that could help uplift their communities. It allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be recognised in the law of the land.

In the past, representative bodies (also known as “Voices”) in parliament have often been abolished when they challenge governments or prove to be insufficient at representing the group. This stifles their chance to enact real change, especially because the complex issues faced by most Indigenous people can’t be solved in just over a couple of years. A Voice to Parliament secures a long-term seat for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people representation, giving them a more powerful platform to contribute to decisions that will affect the lives of their communities and people.

What Is the Uluru Statement From the Heart?

The Uluru Statement of the Heart is an invitation from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to all Australians to “walk with us in a movement for a better future.” The Uluru Statement was introduced in 2018 after hundreds of Indigenous people agreed on it after thirteen sessions of dialogue across the country, in which each was attended by approximately one hundred representatives from local First Nations leaders, Traditional Owners, and community-based organisations.

The Uluru Statement of the Heart seeks to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people are acknowledged, recognised, and listened to at major decision-making and legislative processes in parliament. The Uluru Statement asks this through two parliament agendas: the establishment of a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution and the creation of a Makarrata Commission for treaty-making and truth-telling, the first of which the nearing Referendum vote is set to address.

Read more in our Uluru Statement From The Heart Summary.

What Is a Referendum?

A Referendum is a direct vote by an electorate on a proposal, law, or political issue referred to them for a decision. When a change is proposed to the State or Commonwealth Constitution, a Referendum is held to gauge the opinion of voters about the proposed revision or addition to the constitution. For electors, the process of a Referendum is similar to elections, wherein they must go to a polling place and cast their vote on a ballot.

In the case of a Voice to Parliament, the Referendum is posed as a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question to approve the change to the Constitution. The proposed question for this Referendum is “Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Voice?”

Why Are All Australians Being Asked to Vote?

The only way that the Australian Constitution can be changed is through a Referendum. To formally recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first people of the country in the Constitution and give a guarantee that they have a permanent say in legislative and parliamentary matters, a successful Referendum must be achieved, which will only happen with a “double majority.” That means that a national majority of votes in the states and territories must vote ‘Yes’ and a majority of voters in a majority of states must also vote ‘Yes’ for the parliament to change the constitution.

What Will a Successful Referendum Mean?

A successful Referendum will write a new chapter into the Australian Constitution recognising the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The proposed wording that people will vote on during the referendum is:

  1. There shall be a body, to be called the ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.’
  2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth 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 matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.

Do Aboriginal People Support the Voice?

Australia’s Indigenous community is diverse, so it’s natural for some members to have differing opinions. That said, according to Reconciliation Australia’s Reconciliation Barometer, 86% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people believe the Voice is important, while 87% of the community think that such a body should be protected under the Constitution. 

Everyone voting on the Referendum must take into account multiple perspectives to make an informed choice.

How Will the Voice to Parliament Change the Constitution?

The Voice of Parliament will cement a position for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution. This gives them a seat at the table where decisions are made on the laws of the land, thus ensuring that they can represent their communities and directly advise all levels of government on processes and policies that will affect the country.

Principles of the Voice to Parliament: How Will It Work?

The First Nations’ Referendum Working Group has published a series of design principles of the Voice to Parliament that outlines how it will (and will not) work:

  1. The Voice shall give independent advice to the Parliament and the Government.
  2. The Voice shall be chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people based on the wishes of local communities.
  3. The Voice shall be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It shall be gender-balanced and must include youth.
  4. The Voice will be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful, and culturally informed.
  5. The Voice shall be accountable and transparent.
  6. The Voice will work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures.
  7. The Voice will not have a program delivery function.
  8. The Voice will not have veto power.

Specific details on how the Voice to Parliament will work have yet to be established, but some proposals suggest the advisory body have twenty-four members representing each state and territory, the Torres Strait Islands, and remote Aboriginal communities.

How Will the Voice to Parliament Change Australian Society?

The establishment of the Voice to Parliament is a big leap towards Reconciliation. It secures a position for Indigenous communities in major decisions that could impact their lives, guaranteeing more just and effective results. It also cements the recognition of First Nations people in the Australian Constitution.

Benefits of the Voice to Parliament for All Australians

The Voice to Parliament doesn’t just benefit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people–it brings a positive effect to all Australians. For one, it ushers in a more unified country, one that upholds fairness among all of its citizens. By establishing the Voice, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are recognized in a way that’s more equal to their brothers and sisters. 

The Voice also helps create better education and healthcare systems. In the past, Indigenous people always had the short end of the stick. By acknowledging the injustices they face, these two societal aspects can be improved for all.

Another way the Voice can help everyone is through better laws and policies. When decision-making is more inclusive, outcomes are more favourable.

Take Steps to Learn More About The Voice

The inclusion of a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution is a big step that will affect all Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, so for everyone voting and getting involved, it’s crucial to take the necessary steps to understand the context of the Referendum, hear different perspectives about The Voice, and form your own insights before you vote. By learning about the Referendum and impact of a Voice to Parliament, you can confidently make an informed decision that aligns with your personal beliefs and values when the day of the referendum vote comes.

Aunty Munya and Carla are available to host a private Yarning Circle Webinar to facilitate a discussion about The Voice with your employees. Perfect for your upcoming lunch and learn. Contact us to arrange.

For individuals, we are offering a public webinar on The Voice on Wednesday 6 September, learn more here.

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