Have questions about the Voice to Parliament?
Reconciliation WA is committed to providing factual information about the Voice to Parliament to our supporters, members and the broader community.
We encourage you to read through the below questions we often hear about the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Voice to Parliament.
Sources:Learn more about The Voice
Common myths and misbeliefs
Uluru Statement From The Heart
The Uluru Statement is a generous proposal from Aboriginal people to all Australians, offering a way to create a better future together. It calls for a First Nations Voice to Parliament and a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making and truth-telling. This is summarised as Voice, Treaty, Truth.
The Uluru Statement From The Heart builds on the strong history of Aboriginal advocacy for a better future based on justice and self-determination. Between 2016 and 2017, twelve Aboriginal-led dialogues engaged approximately 1200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to explore structural reform and constitutional change. Each regional dialogue included a representative sample of about 100 First Nations peoples drawn from local traditional owners, Aboriginal community-based organisations and Aboriginal leaders.
These regional dialogues chose their own representatives to attend the First Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru in 2017. By an overwhelming consensus, more than 250 delegates adopted the Uluru Statement From the Heart, which includes the call for a Voice to Parliament.
The dialogues were organised by a secretariat established under the Referendum Council. This secretariat was run by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
In each of 12 regions, AIATSIS engaged a local land council or similar representative body to be a partner in hosting a dialogue. The purpose of each regional dialogue was to gain a robust representative sample of First Nations’ views on recognition and reform. The process needed to be more than opinion. It needed to be fully informed decision-making. The dialogue model was also designed to avoid “group think”.
The model combined information provision such as civics or legal and political education, plenary discussions, break-out groups and the settling of a communique that was owned and endorsed by the participants as a record of their meeting. This means that every single dialogue participant signed off on and agreed to a record of meeting.
Given that the budget from the Commonwealth was limited, the dialogues were capped at 100 participants per region. The local partner organisation prepared an invitation list according to a formula that was used across all the regions:
60% from traditional owner groups or “Who we are”
20% from local community organisations “What we do”
20% local community members as well as members of the Stolen Generations who might not have otherwise attended.
The formula was important to ensure that the dialogue drew on cultural authority, accurately represented local needs, and was not dominated by particular groups or individuals.
Makarrata is a Yolgnu word meaning ‘a coming together after a struggle’. A Makarrata Commission would have two roles: supervising a process of agreement-making, and overseeing a process of truth-telling. Agreements between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Australian governments have been negotiated for many years in Australia, for example under native title and land rights legislation.
The Makarrata Commission would allow these processes to be struck at a national level and regionally with First Nations, by providing support and momentum and helping the parties reach agreement. Another function of a Makarrata Commission would be to supervise a process of ‘truth-telling’: a process that allows the full extent of the past injustices experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be uncovered and revealed. Such a process would allow all Australians to understand our history and assist in moving towards genuine reconciliation.
The Uluru Statement says that First Nations’ sovereignty was never ceded and coexists with the Crown’s sovereignty today, that sovereignty comes from a different source to the sovereignty claimed by the Crown, from the ancestral tie between the land and its people. The Uluru Statement calls for this ancient sovereignty to be recognised through structural reform including constitutional change. Enshrining a First Nations Voice is recognition of First Nations’ sovereignty and First Nations’ rights based on their unique political and cultural existence. Simply, sovereignty is not undermined nor diminished by the Voice.
Voice to Parliament
The first reform proposed by the Uluru Statement is the constitutional enshrinement of a Voice to Parliament. The Voice will be a representative advisory body that provides advice on laws made specifically for and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. It is about making sure policies and laws deliver practical results on the ground and better value for taxpayer investment. It is a common reform adopted around the world to improve democratic participation for Indigenous populations.
Efforts to 'close the gap' for Aboriginal people have been limited by the lack of listening to Aboriginal people - effectively an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament. Of course there is no way that the Voice will close any gap immediately. But by ensuring that policies are guided and informed by Aboriginal peoples themselves, there is a much greater chance of long term, effective change.
While there is not a single view among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there is significant – indeed extraordinary – levels of support among them for the Voice.
First, Indigenous support is demonstrated by the deliberative processes that sits behind the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This involved more than 1,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from across the country.
Second, polling confirms the Voice continues to receive overwhelming Indigenous support. Two polls from 2023 confirm that 80% and 83% of Indigenous people support the Voice.
Reconciliation Australia's recent Australian Reconciliation Barometer Report found that:
- 80% of the general Australian community believe the creation of a national representative Indigenous body is important
- 86% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people believe it is important
- 79% of general community believe such a body should be protected under the constitution.
- 87% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people believe such a body should be protected under the constitution.
Further, Indigenous organisations across the country have indicated their support for the Voice. This includes land-based representative bodies such as the South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council, Kimberley Land Council, Northern Territory Land Councils, Indigenous Desert Alliance and peak service organisations such as the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association.
The Voice has a number of objectives, one of which is the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of the land. First Nations people, through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, indicated they wished for recognition in the form of the Voice. If we are serious about recognition, we should do it in a way that accords with the wishes of those to be recognised.
The second part of the answer relates to the operation of the Voice. Since 1967 federal governments have required a mechanism like a voice to support its work in the Indigenous policy space. The government needs to know who to talk to on issues that affect First Nations people.
If the Voice is in the Constitution, it can only be abolished by another referendum, rather than by a change of government policy. Each of the five previous advisory bodies which have been set up by parliamentary processes were abolished by successive governments cancelling programs, policies and investment with the stroke of a pen. This chopping and changing according to election cycles has contributed to the ongoing disadvantage experienced by many First Nations people. If the Voice was enshrined in the Constitution, it could not be abolished without significant public scrutiny, giving the government of the day a strong incentive to work with First Nations people and ensure their advice and input is heard.
This gives it independence and stability, so it can fulfil its function of speaking about matters that might not be politically popular.
Claims that the Voice will be a “Canberra Voice”, unrepresentative of the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and their views, misrepresents the proposal.
The constitutional provision requires only that the Voice is an “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice”, and leaves the rules governing its composition to be determined by parliament. It is appropriate that parliament is responsible for determining the composition of the Voice, because the identity, experience, culture and views of First Nations across Australia are complex and diverse. This means it will need to be done in close consultation with local Indigenous communities, and will require ongoing monitoring, input and evaluation in cooperation with those communities. The parliament is best placed to undertake that sort of ongoing negotiation.
The government has committed to exactly that form of consultation in the design principles that have been set in collaboration with the Referendum Working Group, a group of Indigenous leaders. These principles indicate how the government intends the Voice to represent the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and their views. These principles commit the government to a Voice that is chosen based on the wishes of local communities, is not appointed by government, reflects gender balance and youth perspectives, and all members must be Indigenous.
The Principles, in part, say:
- Members of the Voice would be selected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, not appointed by the Executive Government.
- The Voice will be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, gender balanced and include youth.
- The Voice would consult with grassroots communities and regional entities to ensure its representations are informed by their experience, including the experience of those who have been historically excluded from participation.
These principles are informed by the recommendations of the 2021 Indigenous Voice Co-Design process as well as the design and proposed reforms of ATSIC.
Importantly, however, the government recognises the need for further consultation with Indigenous people on the specific design of the Voice.
These commitments will ensure the Voice is representative of the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander views.
First Nations members of parliament are elected to represent their electorates – this is the fundamental basis of our representative democracy. They speak for their constituents and represent the political party under which they are elected. Those who participated in the Regional Dialogues do not want to join political parties, they do not want to be politicians. They devote their lives to improving outcomes in their communities and they just want a say in matters that impact them.
There is currently no representative body to provide, in a nationally coordinated way, the government and parliament with the views and experience of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who will be affected by their decisions.
To the extent there are other Indigenous organisations working with government and parliament, the Voice will complement, not detract, from their work. For instance, peak service organisations working in areas such as health, education and law, offer important Indigenous specific services and advice to government in service delivery, they are not representative.
There are more Aboriginal parliamentarians than ever – and this should be celebrated – however these individuals do not primarily represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They are party members bound by party policy, or individual MPs, who represent the whole of their constituencies. Further, Indigenous representation in the parliament is not guaranteed – it will rise and fall depending on party selection, and election results.
Finally, while individual traditional owners might be able to negotiate land claims and native title rights with government, they do not have a nationally representative voice to speak to parliament and government in a coordinated way about the laws and policies that will apply to these negotiations. There is no one to make sure the rules of the game are fair.
The concept of race is already in section 51(xxvi) of the Constitution, which gives the Commonwealth parliament the power to legislate for “people of any race for whom it is deemed to be necessary to make special laws”.
That section was originally included so as to give effect to the White Australia Policy, and Aboriginal people were excluded from it. But since the section was amended in 1967, following a nationwide campaign for change, it has included the power to make such laws “for people […] of the aboriginal race in any State”.
As was intended in 1967, the power has been exercised for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (such as in relation to native title and cultural heritage protection laws). On the other hand, the same power could also arguably be used to pass laws that operate to their detriment. Its existence and breadth underscores the need for a mechanism – the Voice – to listen to the very people to whom those laws would apply.
Source: The Conversation
No. According to the prevailing weight of informed legal opinion, the establishment of the Voice does not pose any abnormal risk of excessive litigation.
Any suggestion the Voice would clog up the parliament or the government ignores the parliament’s ability to determine its own business, and the parliament’s legislative power to determine how the Voice will engage with the government.
Solicitor-general Stephen Donaghue KC has also dismissed suggestions the creation of the advisory body, enshrined in the constitution, would lead to a deluge of legal challenges. The government’s top lawyer insists the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament would "enhance" Australia's system of government, arguing he does not believe it would "pose any threat" to the nation's parliamentary democracy.
Sovereignty is a complex idea, referring at a general level to ultimate political authority within a community. However, people talk about it in different ways. The Voice proposal interacts with sovereignty at three different levels.
First, the call for the Voice reform is based on the strong assertion in the Uluru Statement from the Heart of the continuing and unceded sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Second, there is nothing in the Voice proposal which alters the British Crown’s assertion of sovereignty at settlement, nor the fact that First Nations people have never consented to the forceful transfer of sovereignty to the Australian nation as we now know it.
The third is under international law, which requires the agreement or consent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to cede sovereignty. This is not what is happening under the Voice proposal. Indeed, international treaty bodies have repeatedly confirmed that the Voice would be a positive step for the recognition and political participation rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the state.
The Uluru Statement says that First Nations’ sovereignty was never ceded and coexists with the Crown’s sovereignty today, that sovereignty comes from a different source to the sovereignty claimed by the Crown, from the ancestral tie between the land and its people. The Uluru Statement calls for this ancient sovereignty to be recognised through structural reform including constitutional change.
Yes. There are many ways that this can be achieved.
Norway, Sweden and Finland all have a First Nations Parliament, with authority over certain matters and a right to be consulted over legislation that affects them. In contrast, the New Zealand Parliament has seven seats reserved for Māori people. Both of these mechanisms allow Indigenous peoples to have a voice in the processes of government. Other countries adopt different approaches. In Colombia, a constitutional provision requires the government to consult with Indigenous peoples before permitting natural resource exploitation on Indigenous land.
In some cases, the Colombian Constitutional Court has determined that particular instances of consultation were not adequate. These different arrangements follow international standards. Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, endorsed by Australia in 2009, provides that Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision making institutions’.
Yes. There’s often a lot of confusion about this question, which is because there are two types of detail that people talk about.
The first is the detail about the constitutional change. This is the bit Australians are being asked to vote on, and the bit that is “permanent” (subject to a future referendum). There is heaps of detail in relation to the constitutional change, including the wording of the amendment, the referendum question, the explanatory memorandum to the amendment, a parliamentary inquiry’s report, and the government has even taken the extraordinary route of releasing the solicitor-general’s advice on the legal soundness of the amendment.
The second is the detail about what the legislation establishing the “nuts and bolts” of the Voice will look like. To be clear, this detail is not part of the constitutional amendment – and it is entirely normal for constitutions to leave this type of detail to be worked out in future by the parliament. It would be misleading to release the full detail of the Voice, because this detail would need to be passed through parliament, and would be subject to future change.
However, there is some detail about what the Voice will look like. The government has taken the sensible option of indicating what it will do following a successful referendum, and how it will go about setting up the Voice. It has worked with the Referendum Working Group to finalise a set of design principles that provide the outline of what the voice will look like – how it will represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country, what functions it will have, and how it will be accountable.
Source: The Conversation
The Upcoming Referendum
The Australian Constitution is the set of rules by which Australia is governed. The only way to change the Constitution is by holding a referendum. It is up to the Australian people to decide if the Constitution should change.
A federal referendum is a national vote on a question about whether part of the Constitution should change. Just like a federal election, all Australian citizens aged 18 and over must vote.
For a referendum to pass, a majority of voters need to vote ‘yes’ nationally, plus a majority of voters in at least 4 out of 6 states. This is known as a double majority.
On referendum day, voters will be asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a single question. The question on the ballot paper will be:
“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?”
The ‘Proposed Law’ that Australians are being asked to vote upon is set out in the Constitution Alteration Bill. If approved at the referendum, the Bill would add the following words to the Constitution:
"Chapter IX Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:
i. there shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
ii. 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;
iii. 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."
If the referendum passes, the Voice won’t exist until legislation is enacted. There would be a process to consult on and finalise the Voice with the steps outlined below.
In late 2023, Australians will have their say in a referendum on whether to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia in the Constitution through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
If the referendum passes, there will be a process with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the broader public to design the Voice.
Introduce Voice establishment legislation to Parliament
A bill will then be developed to establish the Voice. This would be introduced to Parliament and may be referred to a parliamentary committee to suggest ways to improve it. Parliament decides if it becomes law. 6
Once Parliament approves the legislation to establish the Voice, the legislation comes into effect and the work to set up the Voice begins.