“Voice – Now”, Acrylic on Canvas, Glenn Loughrey, 2018
As we have now entered 2023 the rundown to the referendum on the Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution has begun. Sometime before December, we will be asked to vote on whether we recognize the First Peoples of this land in the Constitution and provide them a Voice to parliament on legislation that impacts them.
It is simple and uncomplicated and appeals to the fairness of Australians to recognize First Peoples in the founding document of our nation. This is a significant step that builds on the success of the 1967 Referendum and the democratic process we now know as the Statement of the Heart.
It is simple and uncomplicated as it is about justice – acknowledging that there were people who lived in harmony with this land before the First Fleet arrived and that they have suffered significantly and continue to do so despite the many interventions in the past 250-plus years. It is not about taking anything away from the powers of governments or the constitution itself. It adds to both in a way that allows Australia and Australians to live out fully their vision of themselves as the nation of the fair-go.
It is simple and uncomplicated in that it has no power to veto Government legislation. Period.
It provides advice, input, and a Voice for the First peoples on matters that affect them directly. It is not another layer of bureaucracy or a third chamber. It is there to be the conscience of parliament and will act in the manner the legislation under which it will be formed allows it to.
When people say, “they need more detail”, I ask, “what detail do you want?” Most are unsure how to answer. As it is only a Voice and has no power to overrule governments, what possible detail is needed? Details such as how it will be formed, how the membership will be decided, and more are included in the copious reports of select committees, the last of which was the Marcia Langton/Tom Calma report to the Morrison government. These questions are about mechanics not the purpose of the Voice.
Wanting more detail is shorthand for opponents to spread misinformation and fear. Australians are not stupid; they understand the moral basis for a Voice and recognition enshrined in the constitution. They know that this is the right thing to do. It is disappointing that political parties, lobby groups, and others want to use this sensible proposition to split and divide our country.
As noted in The Conversation, at Gama 2022:
“The Prime Minister released a draft of the question that would be put to the people at the referendum for the change.
The new provision in the constitution would have three sentences:
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 Parliament and the Executive government 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 the composition, functions, powers, and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.”
It seems to me that these three lines carry all the detail one needs to know: what it is, what it will do, and how it will be formed. Again, in these three lines, it is made clear that this body will make representations only and will not veto or have the power to veto Government policy and legislation. But it will have input and that is only right.
The draft referendum question would ask:
“Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?”
A fair-minded person who is aware, as most of us now are, of the history of this country, should find no obstacles to saying yes.
It is the just and right thing to do.