Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between having an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to parliament and elected Indigenous parliamentarians?
The Voice to Parliament is an advisory body and its members do not have a vote on the floor of parliament. Australia’s parliaments are also mostly made up of members of political parties – the Voice is not structured in the same way, and previous representative bodies like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) were structured so that political parties didn’t play a big role. People elected to parliament are meant to represent at least a majority of people in their electorate, and at the moment none of the 151 commonwealth electorates, nor any state or territory (for the purpose of electing Senators) is made up of a majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
No. The Voice to Parliament provides a mechanism for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide advice to government on important issues, it does not confer any rights on any person.
Successive governments have created Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory groups, only for them to be abolished, defunded or substantively changed by future governments. By enshrining the Voice to Parliament in the constitution future governments would have to seek another referendum to abolish the Voice to Parliament.
What ability will the Voice to Parliament give to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a say on how issues affect every Australian?
The Voice to Parliament is specifically about setting up a body to provide advice on issues as they relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So when the Voice to Parliament provides advice, it will only be on how that issue affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Details and principles about the Voice to Parliament have been discussed publicly for many years, starting with the release of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017. The detailed key design principles were released on March 23 this year (2023). These design principles outline how the Voice to Parliament will be independent, representative, selected by communities (not the parliament), be accountable and transparent in their operations, not deliver services, and have no veto powers.
After the referendum, there will be a process with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the Parliament and the broader public to settle the Voice design. Legislation to establish the Voice will then go through standard parliamentary processes to ensure adequate scrutiny by elected representatives in both houses of Parliament.
The implementation of a Voice to Parliament will not cede sovereignty. This can only be done through agreement, and not via the constitution. Though the Voice to Parliament could advise the government on treaty making, and help to deliver the other calls contained in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, namely truth and treaty.
The Voice to Parliament doesn’t stop the government from working towards justice and the delivery of these other priorities. The Voice to Parliament will also help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a stronger say in how the government should progress these other priorities.
Recognition of the past, coupled with ongoing input from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on matters that uniquely concern them, among others, are essential elements in taking meaningful steps towards justice and real reconciliation in Australia. In turn this can lead to healing, shared learning and a renewed way of relating to each other and the country we all now share.
The resourced representations provided by the Voice on matters will be useful to thinking in other contexts. The deep spirituality and ancient connection to this country brought to legislation and policies by the Voice could act as a catalyst for community listening and discussion on different ways of being and doing life together in Australia more broadly. This will be of great value to us all.
I support the ‘Yes’ vote, but am unsure how to share my position with others that may not agree. Is there a respectful way to discuss this issue?
Here is an excellent guide for positive messaging around Social Justice and self-determination. It is important to remember that respect and open dialogue is the cornerstone of all effective communication.
No doubt, sadly, there are some racist people in Australia, and they are likely to vote ‘no’. But other people who vote ‘no’ will do so for reasons that they regard as sound and which have nothing to do with being racially discriminatory.
Here is a discussion of the Voice from an ethics perspective by Margaret Somerville, Professor of Bioethics in the School of Medicine at the University of Notre Dame Australia. It addresses questions for those confused by Fr Brennan’s comments regarding Executive Government.
There have been 44 referendums held since 1901 and only eight of these have been successful. Importantly, the most successful referendum in Australia’s history was in 1967 where 90.77% of the nation came together in support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights.
No, there can be treaties whether or not the Voice is placed in the Constitution.
Will the establishment of the Voice cost Australian tax payers more or could it save money in the long run?
It will cost money to establish the Voice at the local, regional and national levels. But an effective Voice should result in better outcomes for First Australians on the ground, closing the gap, and reducing recurrent expenditure.
For too long, we have all heard stories about remote Aboriginal communities and isolated urban Aboriginal families whose needs are unmet by government programs. The Voice should help governments and self-determining First Nations service delivery organisations to attend to those needs more readily.
People, communities and even our own families don’t always agree – and that is OK. The overwhelming majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want to be acknowledged as the First Peoples to inhabit Australia and want to have their Voices heard on decisions that affect them, their families and communities.
All Australians now know the names of prominent Aboriginal leaders, some of whom like Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton support the Voice, and others like Warren Mundine and Jacinta Price who oppose the Voice. Whatever their differences, they all want the best for their people and the country.
Information from some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People that oppose the voice is available at https://www.recogniseabetterway.org.au