The idea of having a Voice to Parliament is a key element of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, it aims to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities a route to help inform policy and legal decisions that impact their lives. The Voice will be chosen by based on the wishes of local communities, and it will be representative of our diverse people, gender-balanced and include youth. It will be empowering community-led inclusive, respectful, and culturally informed, and it will work alongside existing organizations and traditional structures.
The Voice to Parliament will be protected by the Constitution, which means that it can’t be shut down by successive governments. To make this happen, we need a Referendum, which 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 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.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart 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.
In the five years since the release of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a Joint Select Committee has considered the proposal, and an Indigenous Voice Co-design process outlined 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.
This referendum will give Australians the chance to write a new chapter into our Constitution, and 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. This will be voted on by the Parliament in June.
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 the general community believe such a body should be protected under the Constitution; and 87% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people believe such a body should be protected under the Constitution.