A First Nations Voice to Parliament protected by the Constitution is a key element of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
After detailed consultation with the Referendum Working Group, Prime Minister Albanese announced the proposed referendum question on 23 March 2023.
The Bill was introduced to parliament on 30 March 2023.
This will be voted on by the parliament – after debate – in June. The question is:
Why do we need a First Nations Voice?
A Voice to Parliament will give Indigenous communities a route to help inform policy and legal decisions that impact their lives. Giving people a say will lead to more effective results.
Embedding a Voice in the Constitution would recognise the special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s history, but importantly would also mean that it can’t be shut down by successive Governments.
This is important because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and bodies have called for voice for close to 100 years.
How do we get a First Nations Voice to Parliament?
We need a Referendum. This is a bit like an election, but instead of voting for people to be Members of Parliament, Australia will be asked to answer a simple question – like the one proposed by the Prime Minister – with a YES or a NO.
For a referendum to be successful it requires a majority of voters across the nation and a majority of voters in a majority of states—this is known as a double majority.
What work has been done so far?
The Voice was proposed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
It was presented to the nation five years ago on 26 May 2017 by delegates to the First Nations National Constitutional Convention, held over four days near Uluru in Central Australia.
The 250-member convention was held after the 16-member Referendum Council had travelled around the country and met with over 1,200 people.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for, “… the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution and a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making and truth-telling about our history.”
In the five years since the release of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a Joint Select Committee has considered the proposal.
An Indigenous Voice Co-design process outlined, in detail, options for how a Voice could work.
Further work will continue in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about what will go forward and ultimately the Australian people will be asked to support an Indigenous Voice to Parliament being enshrined in our Constitution.
What will be added to the Constitution?
This referendum will give Australians the chance to write a new chapter into our Constitution. The wording proposed on 23 March 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.
The Bill was introduced to parliament on 30 March 2023.
This is expected to be voted on by the Parliament in June.
Guiding principles of the Voice
Senior Counsel and referendum working group member Tony McAvoy outlined the principles to that might be held about the proposed advisory body.
- The Voice will give independent advice to the Parliament and Government
- It will be chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people based on the wishes of local communities
- It will be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, gender-balanced and include youth
- It will be empowering community-led inclusive, respectful and culturally informed
- It will be accountable and transparent
- It will work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures
- It will not have a program delivery function
- It will not have a veto power.
See more information on the Voice Design Principles.
Do Australians want change?
Reconciliation Australia’s work consistently shows the public is on board when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people having a say, and that we want governments to step up too.
The Australian Reconciliation Barometer – our two-yearly survey on attitudes to reconciliation – shows consistent and strong support.
- 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.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can no longer see their right to have a say, their right to be heard at the highest levels of law in this country, continue to be a political football tossed between successive governments.
Learn more and take action
Check out the links below for resources and information suitable for you and your family, or community and sporting groups, students and workplaces.
New to the list is an excellent interactive digital learning platform by From the Heart and the Uluru Dialogues to help build awareness and understanding of the referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
The content takes about 15 minutes to go through and includes videos and interactive questions.
Get up to speed with the info below
- Learn more about an Indigenous Voice to Parliament through the Interactive Digital Learning Platform at ulurustatement.org
- Read information on the Uluru Statement from the Heart at: ulurustatement.org
- Find out more from the Yes Campaign
- See how you can start a conversation group
- Read the Indigenous Voice Co-design report
- Read the 2018 Joint Select Committee Report
- Read the 2022 Australian Reconciliation Barometer
- Professor Megan Davis on the Uluru Statement from the Heart
- Linda Burney, Yiŋiya Mark Guyula, June Oscar, Dean Parkin, Mayatili Marika & Jacinta Nampijinpa Price talk Voice on QnA from Garma Festival 2022
- Professor Marcia Langton describes the Voice to Parliament process so far.