On 14 October, Australians will be voting in a referendum on the following 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?
The proposed alteration is:
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:
- there shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
- 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.
I'll be voting yes. Here's why.
The Voice will be no more and no less than an advisory body. It will make sure that Indigenous Australians always have a way to make their views heard in Canberra. That is all the Voice will do. It's not a 'third chamber' of Parliament. It's not a new bureaucracy. It's not a cash grab. It is literally just about allowing Indigenous Australians to tell the government what they think it needs to hear.
Why is a Voice needed? Why isn't normal parliamentary representation enough? Why does the constitution have to change? For three reasons:
- Indigenous Australians have a special relationship with the land (their Country) which does not depend on law, but should be recognised by it.
- Indigenous Australians have special disadvantages, resulting from dispossession, colonisation, paternalism, and neglect, which are not being overcome, or not being overcome fast enough.
- Indigenous Australians have been represented by advisory bodies before, but every single one has been abolished or defunded by the whim of the government of the day. By embedding the Voice in the constitution, that can't happen again.
The Voice referendum is a chance for the descendants of everyone who arrived here later to forge a new relationship with the descendants of those were here first. In its final form, the Voice came out of a long process of deliberation and consultation, including with Indigenous communities across the country. It's supported by around 80 per cent of Indigenous Australians. It's what they (Indigenous Australians) are telling us (non-Indigenous Australians) that they want and need. It's also what we (all Australians) need, for a better and fairer Australia.
The Voice is not going to solve every problem facing Indigenous Australians. (After all, having a voice doesn't guarantee that you will be listened to.) It's neither the beginning nor the end of that road, it's only one step along it. The odds currently don't look good. But I believe we should give the Voice a chance. I hope we will.
If you don't know… find out
If you're unsure about the Voice actually is, why it is needed, or what it means for Australians, there's still time to do some research. And you could do worse than to spend some time reading any of the following.
- A minute: the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
- A few minutes: Patrick Dodson, 'The Voice is a test of enlightened democracy', The Saturday Paper, 23 September 2023.
- A few hours: Thomas Mayo and Kerry O'Brien, The Voice to Parliament Handbook: All the Detail You Need (Melbourne: Hardie Grant Explore, 2023); Marcia Langton, The Welcome to Country Handbook: A Guide to Indigenous Australia (Melbourne: Hardie Grant Explore, 2023).
- A few days: Billy Griffiths, Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia (Carlton: Black Inc, 2018); Lyndall Ryan, Tasmanian Aborigines: A History since 1803 (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2012); Henry Reynolds and Nicholas Clements, Tongerlongeter: First Nations Leader & Tasmanian War Hero (Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2021).
- As long as you can bear to look at it: Colonial Frontier Massacres in Australia, 1788-1930.
Image source: Yes23.
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