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Australians will decide on October 14 whether to amend the Constitution to formally recognise Indigenous peoples through the creation of a body that advises the parliament and executive government on policies affecting them.
If a Yes vote prevails, the Constitution will be amended to formally recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the creation of a new body to represent their interests in the running of this country. Credit: Marija Ercegovac
Who backs the Yes case?
- The Labor Party, which decided to hold the referendum in its first term, is the main political force, while the Greens, many crossbenchers, and a small group of Liberals, including Julian Leeser and Bridget Archer, support the proposal.
- The campaign outfit is called Yes23, which is responsible for campaign logistics.
- Peak multicultural and religious groups, major companies including Qantas, Telstra, Rio Tinto and Wesfarmers, more than 20 sporting bodies including rugby, football, the AFL and NRL, golf, netball and tennis, and other community organisations have come out in support of the Voice.
Who are the prominent Yes figures?
- Yes23’s campaign director is Queenslander Dean Parkin. Some of its leading campaigners include unionist Thomas Mayo, Aunty Pat Anderson, film director Rachel Perkins and former Victorian First Peoples’ Assembly head Marcus Stewart.
- The leading figures involved in the conception of the Voice include Noel Pearson, constitutional lawyer Megan Davis, and academic Marcia Langton.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says Labor takes on policies such as the Voice “not because they’re convenient, but out of conviction”, while Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney says she will task the body with generating fresh ideas in health, education, jobs and housing.
What is the Yes campaign’s message?
Proponents say the referendum is about:
- formally recognising and respecting Aboriginal traditions in Australia’s founding document;
- listening to Indigenous perspectives so governments make better policies; and
- getting better outcomes for Indigenous health, education employment and housing.
What is the referendum about?
Australia’s Constitution does not mention that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were the original inhabitants of this continent. When he was prime minister in 2007, John Howard put forward a plan to hold a referendum to recognise their unique status. But he lost office and plans stalled despite multiple governments promising change. After Indigenous leaders rejected the form of recognition proposed by Howard – which they deemed symbolic and weak – a group of Indigenous leaders came up with the idea of a Voice.
What is a Voice?
The Voice would be an advisory body that gives ideas and feedback to the parliament and executive government about policies and issues that affect Indigenous Australians. Members of the body would need to be Indigenous and selected by their communities. However, proponents decided to settle on the precise details of its composition after the referendum if it succeeds, prompting some criticism. Possible design features are contained in a report by Langton and fellow Indigenous academic Tom Calma, though the government has never fully endorsed this report’s suggestions.
What is the Uluru Statement from the Heart?
The 2017 statement stemmed from a series of meetings organisers say went over six months and involved more than 1200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives. It represents the political aspirations of Australia’s mainstream Indigenous community. The document asks for a Voice, a Makarrata commission that would oversee treaties, and a truth-telling process to educate Australians about the effects of colonisation. Makarrata is a word from the Yolngu language that means coming together after a struggle.
What will we be asked on referendum day?
People will be asked to vote Yes or No on a single question: “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?”
If a majority of all voters across Australia, as well as a majority of voters in a majority of states (at least four out of six) vote in favour, a new chapter will be inserted into the Constitution saying:
“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.”
Voting in the referendum is compulsory for citizens aged 18 or older, with potential fines for those without a valid reason not to.
Since Federation, only eight of the 44 proposals for constitutional change have been approved. The most recent successful referendums were in 1977.
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