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Campaign to support the “yes” vote. Photo: yes23au/facebook

Voice referendum Australia 2023

09 October, 2023 | Fabbrizzio Changala

From this Monday and until Saturday -14 October – a referendum is being held in Australia that aims to create a constitutional mechanism that allows Indigenous Australians to have a say in the laws and policies that affect them directly. The referendum is set to include a new section in the constitution, which will read as follows:

In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:

  1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
  2. 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;
  3. 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.[1]

This would be the first time the Indigenous People get recognition in the 123 years old Constitution, in a country where the European settlement began 250 years ago but the first human settlement goes back 65.000 years ago.

The colonization process resulted in the dispossession of Indigenous lands and cultures, accompanied by policies of assimilation and discrimination, for example the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families, known as the Stolen Generations, which happened from 1910 until the 1970s, 200 years after the first british set foot in the island. These policies left a legacy of trauma and inequality that Indigenous Australians continue to grapple with today: shorter life expectancy, less years of schooling, higher unemployment and incarceration, less income and wellbeing overall. [2]

The idea of an Indigenous voice in Parliament gained prominence with the Uluru Statement from the Heart, released in 2017. The statement was the culmination of a national consultation process known as the First Nations National Constitutional Convention. This gathering brought together Indigenous leaders, representatives, and community members from across Australia to discuss the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the country’s constitution.

The Uluru Statement received widespread attention and support from Indigenous communities and their allies. It represented a powerful call for change and a way forward in the reconciliation process.

The proposal for a referendum on Indigenous voice in Parliament emerged as a response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The idea was to amend the Australian Constitution to include a provision that recognizes and establishes the Indigenous advisory body, the “Voice.”

At the time, the conservative government rejected this proposition but in 2022, Anthony Albanese (Labor Party) became prime minister and said Australians would have their say in a referendum to include an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament and confirmed so on March 23.[3]

More than 2.2 million people had already voted in early voting by Monday, while a further 1.9 million intended to make postal votes, and early polls are not favorable for the Yes campaign, despite showing a clear majority one year ago.[4]

It is important to point out that this constitutional referendum, in order to win, requires not only a majority of voters to vote yes nationally, but also it requires a majority in a majority of states, so four out of the six states must have a majority yes vote.

[1] https://www.aec.gov.au/referendums/learn/the-question.html

[2] https://australianstogether.org.au/discover-and-learn/the-wound/indigenous-disadvantage-in-australia/