Big Issues

The Voice Referendum Date Has Been Set. What Now?

Voice to parliament Lidia Thorpe Linda Burney Jacinta Price

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It’s official. Australia will be asked to vote on the Voice to Parliament referendum on October 14. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the date today at a Yes campaign event in Adelaide. He also called on Australians to “vote Yes” saying that the Voice is a “way for all of us to recognise Indigenous Australians and their history in our constitution”.

What Is The Voice To Parliament? 

If you need a quick catch up, the Voice to Parliament is a proposed independent and permanent advisory body that will give advice to the Australian Parliament and Government. It will consult on matters that affect the lives of First Nations peoples in Australia and will be made up of an unspecified number of members that would be selected by Indigenous communities across the nation. Members will serve on the Voice for a fixed period of time. 

To ensure that the Voice to Parliament will be a permanent fixture it needs to be added to the Constitution. For anything to be added to the Constitution, a referendum needs to be held and the Australian public have to vote on whether or not they agree it should be included. In this instance, we are being asked whether we think the Voice should be enshrined in the Constitution, which currently doesn’t recognise First Nations peoples. 

The Voice to Parliament was requested by the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was delivered by more than 250 Indigenous leaders back in 2017. The Statement submitted three proposals – a Voice to Parliament, the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to begin a truth-telling process about Australia’s history, and a treaty. As it currently stands, Australia is one of the few Commonwealth nations that doesn’t have a treaty with its First Nations peoples.  

How Do You Vote In The Referendum?

For many of us, this will be the first referendum we’ve voted on and it’s a pretty big one too. The process is similar to that of a state or federal election but there’s a few differences to be aware of.

First of all, if you’re over 18 on October 14 you’ll need to head to your closest polling place which will be open from 8am to 6pm. Exact locations haven’t been made available just yet but you can check out the AEC website for more information closer to the date of the vote. It’s reasonable to assume that schools, churches, and community halls will be used for polling booths as per usual. Postal votes and pre-polling booths will operate broadly as they do in general elections. 

Unlike other elections where you vote on parties and people, in this referendum you will be asked to respond to a question about enshrining an Indigenous Voice to Parliament into the Australian constitution. As such, you have to clearly write either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on your ballot. The AEC is urging us to not use a tick or check mark as these could leave your vote open to interpretation or challenge. 

The Voice To Parliament ‘Yes’ Vote 

The overall ‘Yes’ campaign is led by a few different groups and organisations which are all working together. The main ones are the Uluru Dialogue and the grassroots ‘Yes23’ campaign. Labor, the Greens and some Liberals (like former PM Malcolm Turnbull) have also advocated for the implementation of the Voice.

‘Yes’ campaigners argue that the Voice to Parliament is the first step towards the formal recognition of First Nations peoples in Australia and having their needs adequately met. A lot of ‘Yes’ voters hope that the Voice will encourage acknowledgement of the effects of colonisation on Indigenous communities and provide a way to allow First Nations peoples to actually make decisions on issues that affect them. They also say it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that will be a marker of hope for future generations

The Grassroots No Vote 

Despite its portrayal in mainstream media, the ‘No’ vote is very nuanced, featuring arguments from across the political spectrum. 

Indigenous grassroots organisations and activists like the Blak Sovereign Movement have actually been advocating against the Voice to Parliament since it was first suggested that Labor would adopt the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, starting with a referendum. Before institution of the Voice, they believe that the government needs to properly engage with Indigenous people in a meaningful way and address issues like health, education, deaths in custody, and land rights. Back in 2020, WAR (Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance) argued that the Voice will be “yet another advisory body [that] will fail to enable Aboriginal self-determination in any real or meaningful way”.

Gunnai, Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman and Independent politician Lidia Thorpe has also been a strong advocate against the Voice to Parliament. She believes that a treaty needs to be implemented first. Without that, she argues that  the Voice to Parliament will have no genuine power to help the communities it’s designed to. Thorpe also calls for a Blak Republic — a republic movement led by Indigenous people — which would allow First Nations peoples to have greater self-determination, help in “taking back what was ours”, and ensure that “everybody in this country is looked after”. 

The Conservative No Vote

Of course, there are other ‘No’ campaigns coming from the right. Recognise a Better Way is a campaign run by high-profile Indigenous Australians like the former ALP president and Liberal candidate Warren Mundine, former federal Labor MP Gary Johns, and former deputy prime minister John Anderson. Northern Territory senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price was previously involved in the group before moving onto another, more right-wing campaign. 

Mundine’s group believes that the Voice to Parliament will divide Australia further and not actually achieve anything for Indigenous people. They’re pushing for more symbolic recognition of First Nations peoples in the constitution’s preamble. 

Fair Australia is another ‘No’ campaign from right-wing organisation Advance, which is led by Price. They argue that the Voice to Parliament will “wreck our Constitution, rewire our democracy, and divide Australians by race”. They’re also not fans of “woke politicians and inner city elites”.

The Importance Of Listening To Indigenous Voices

As we head to the voting booth on October 14, it’s important to listen to — and amplify — Indigenous voices. Although we only make up 3.8 percent of the Australian population, the Voice — whichever way the vote goes — is designed to directly affect our communities, families, and future. The nature of this referendum means that an overwhelming number of non-Indigenous people are being asked to have an opinion, sometimes bringing a lot of distracting commentary into the debate. So it’s important to educate yourself on First Nations perspectives about the Voice. 

For example, South Sea and Darumbal writer Amy McQuire wrote an incredibly thoughtful and inquisitive piece about what the Voice could actually do, asking if it would fight “racist violence”. 

A personal favourite piece and one that perfectly encapsulates what a lot of us Indigenous people are thinking is by Munanjahli and South Sea Island author and Associate Professor at the University of Queensland Chelsea Watego. She writes about why a lot of First Nations mob are staying silent about the upcoming Voice to Parliament. 

Bundjalung Widubul-Wiabul activist and lawyer Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts wrote that regardless of a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ outcome, “Australia is still guilty”. 

There is also a great Q+A episode about the Voice featuring Indigenous leaders that is worth watching to learn the different sides of the argument. 

Ky is a proud Kamilaroi and Dharug person and writer at Junkee. Follow them on X

Image: AAP