Frequently Asked Questions about the Voice to Parliament
Thank you for your commitment to understanding the Voice to Parliament. We’ve prepared answers to many of the most common questions about the Voice below.
WHAT IS A REFERENDUM?
Answer: A referendum is when voters are asked to write Yes or No in answer to a question. The only way to change Australia’s Constitution is via a referendum.
WHO CAN VOTE IN A REFERENDUM?
Answer: It’s compulsory by law for all eligible Australian citizens aged 18 and older to enrol and vote in referendums.
HOW DO I VOTE IN THE REFERENDUM?
Answer: Referendums are like elections. Make sure you are enrolled to vote. On polling day, you can go to a polling place set up at schools and other public buildings around the country and cast your vote on a ballot paper.
HOW IS A REFERENDUM DECIDED?
Answer: For a Referendum to be successful, it needs a double majority. This means a majority of votes in at least four states as well as a majority across the whole of Australia.
WHAT IS THE 2023 REFERENDUM FOR?
Answer: In the last quarter of 2023, Australians will be asked to vote in a referendum to decide: Should we recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution, with a Voice to Parliament?
WHAT IS THE ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER VOICE?
Answer: A Voice to Parliament will be a permanent body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives to give independent advice to the Australian Parliament and the Executive Government on laws and policies that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. A constitutionally enshrined Voice will ensure that the expertise and experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must always be considered by the Federal Parliament when making decisions about the lives, communities and affairs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
WHERE DOES THE VOICE PROPOSAL COME FROM?
Answer: The Voice was proposed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is the culmination of over a decade of work and extensive First Nations consultation which arrived at a consensus about what constitutional recognition should look like.
12 deliberative dialogues were conducted involving a total of 1,200 First Nations people drawn from local traditional owners, First Nations community-based organisations and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders. These regional dialogues then selected their own representatives to attend the First Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru in 2017, where First Nations forged a historic consensus on what constitution recognition should look like, adopting the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The Statement is an invitation from First Nations people to all Australians. One of its key features is to ask Australians to support meaningful constitutional recognition through providing a First Nations Voice.
WHAT SHAPE WOULD A FIRST NATIONS VOICE TAKE?
Answer: The referendum will ask Australians if they agree that First Nations people should have a seat at the table when decisions are being made about their lives. The exact shape will be determined by the Parliament following a successful referendum. This allows for the shape to be changed by parliaments over time according to the conditions of the day. Put simply, the constitution is for the concept. The Parliament is for the shape, the bricks and mortar.
IS A ‘YES’ VOTE RISKY UNTIL THERE’S MORE DETAIL ABOUT THE VOICE?
Answer: The referendum will ask Australians if they agree that First Nations people should have a seat at the table when decisions are being made about their lives. The exact shape will be determined by the Parliament following a successful referendum. This allows for the details about the shape to be decided through normal parliamentary procedures, and changed by Parliaments over time, as required according to the conditions of the day. The details will be developed in consultation with Indigenous communities, and some of these design principles have been shared already.
WHY IS THE VOICE A GOOD POLICY IDEA?
Answer: The Voice to parliament provides an opportunity to progress the rights of First Nations Peoples in Australia.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have long called for self-determination and community control over their lives and affairs. Decades of evidence spanning healthcare and health responses, approaches to education, justice reinvestment and the preservation and celebration of culture shows that First Nations Peoples are best served and can best flourish when they’re involved in the decisions made about their lives.
WILL THE VOICE HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON FIRST NATIONS LIVES?
Answer: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people know and understand the best way to deliver real and practical change in their communities. The Voice will provide an avenue for them to provide advice to the Federal Parliament about laws and policies, through a consultative policy making process that delivers meaningful structural change.
A Voice will mean the Government will have better quality information about First Nations communities and issues, delivered directly from communities themselves. Information from communities will result in better quality laws and policies, better targeted investment and ultimately better outcomes for First Nations people across many sectors.
DO FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE SUPPORT THE VOICE?
Answer: Overwhelmingly, yes. Independent research undertaken in 2023 shows that at least 80% of First Nations people support the Voice.
WHY IS THE VOICE NEEDED WHEN THERE ARE ALREADY FIRST NATIONS MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT?
Answer: First Nations members of parliament are elected to represent their electorates, and usually as members of a political party. They do not primarily represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There is currently no nationally coordinated representative body to provide the Government and Parliament with the views and experience of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who will be affected by their decisions.
WHY DO WE NEED TO CHANGE THE CONSTITUTION? WHY CAN’T IT BE AN ORDINARY ACT OF PARLIAMENT?
Answer: 1967 federal governments have required a mechanism like a Voice to support its work in the Indigenous policy space. The government needs to know who to talk to on issues that affect First Nations people. Each of the five previous mechanisms which have been set up by parliamentary processes for this purpose have been abolished by successive governments cancelling programs, policies and investment with the stroke of a pen. This chopping and changing according to election cycles has contributed to the ongoing disadvantage experienced by many First Nations people. If the Voice was enshrined in the Constitution, it could not be abolished without significant public scrutiny (in another referendum), giving the government of the day a strong incentive to work with First Nations people and ensure their advice and input is heard
WILL THE VOICE LEAD TO MEANINGFUL CHANGE FOR FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE?
Answer: The Voice will create an avenue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide advice to Parliament about laws and policies, ultimately leading to meaningful structural change. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people know and understand the best way to deliver real and practical change in their communities, and the Voice is the outcome of the most consultative process in this country’s history.
The Voice would make a positive difference in addressing real issues in the community, including improving outcomes for education, employment, housing and health. It will hold politicians accountable for how existing funding is allocated and spent – making sure it’s actually going to its intended purpose and getting the best outcomes for the very people it’s meant to benefit.
WOULD THE VOICE HELP END THE OVERREPRESENTATION OF FIRST NATIONS KIDS IN JAIL?
Answer: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people know and understand the best way to achieve and protect the human rights of their Peoples, and have fought for the right to inform the decisions made for their families and their communities. The overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in jails is damning proof that current policies regarding youth justice are not working. We know that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people steer or lead the policies to address youth incarceration, such as community-led justice reinvestment programs, that kids are far more likely to remain out of jail, in their communities and getting back to school. Overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in prison is exactly the type of issue that the Voice would advise government on, and exactly the type of issue where advice from First Nations leaders would make a difference.
HUMAN RIGHTS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE UNIVERSAL, WHY SHOULD WE CREATE SPECIAL TREATMENT/RIGHTS THROUGH THE VOICE?
Answer: Human rights are universal, but right now in Australia they are not equally upheld. For hundreds of years, systems brought to this continent through colonisation and settlement have failed to uphold and protect the human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and in many cases these systems actively violate the human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Since colonisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have fought for their rights, including the right to make decisions for their families, their Nations, and their lands. Amnesty International is proud to stand in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples through the referendum campaign and in all campaigns for First Nations justice.
WOULD THE VOICE CREATE DIVISION AND DIVIDE PEOPLE ON THE BASIS OF RACE?
Answer: The Voice would help create a fairer, more unified Australia, and help address historic and systemic disadvantage faced by First Nations people since colonisation.
The Constitution already refers to race, and a Voice would not create different categories of citizenship.
All Australians already have the right to make representations to Parliament. The Voice is simply a permanent body of representatives to provide independent advice to Parliament on laws and policies, with the aim of improving outcomes for First Nations people.
WHAT ABOUT A VOICE FOR OTHER MARGINALISED GROUPS?
Answer: There are many individuals, communities and groups in Australia whose human rights are threatened through discrimination and injustice. Human rights are universal, and everyone deserves to have their human rights protected so they are treated fairly and with dignity. That’s why Amnesty exists, and why we are campaigning for a Human Rights Act which would protect the human rights of all Australians.
First Nations people have lived and cared for this continent for over 60,000 years, and constitute the oldest living cultures in the world. As such, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people deserve special recognition in Australia’s constitution, to recognise their significant place in the history – present, and future – of this continent.
WILL THE VOICE HAVE VETO POWER?
No, the Voice would not have the power to veto bills or force the Parliament to act. It would be an advisory body only. This is what is proposed in the Uluru Statement of the Heart, following over a decade of work and extensive consultation with First Nations people. Over 80% of First Nations people support the Voice.
These are the design principles that will shape the Voice, if the referendum is successful:
- The Voice will give independent advice to the Parliament and Government
- The Voice will be chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people based on the wishes of local communities
- The Voice will be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, gender balanced and include youth
- The Voice will be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful and culturally informed
- The Voice will be accountable and transparent
- The Voice will work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures
- The Voice will not have a program delivery function
- The Voice will not have a veto power
HOW LONG IS THE ULURU STATEMENT?
There’s an unfortunate bit of misinformation that’s going around at the moment. Some people have incorrectly claimed that there is a “hidden” version of the Uluru Statement from the Heart that is 26 pages long. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is just one document, as has been confirmed by the statement’s authors. Papers released under Freedom of Information (FOI) included the statement as well as 25 pages which simply contain background information and minutes of meetings held with Indigenous communities in 2016 and 2017 – These are not part of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. You can read about this in more detail here: The Uluru Statement from the Heart is one page long, not 26.
ARE ABORIGINAL ELDERS BEING CONSULTED ABOUT THE VOICE?
The Voice was proposed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is the culmination of over a decade of work and extensive consultation (including 13 Regional Dialogues around the country involving 1,200 First Nations people many of whom were Traditional Owners and Elders from across the Nation) which arrived at a consensus about what constitutional recognition should look like. The consultation was the largest First Nations consultation process in Australian history. Since the Uluru Statement was signed in 2017, many more Elders, Land councils, Aboriginal organisations and leaders have come out in support of it.
WILL THE VOICE LEAD TO REPARATIONS TO FIRST NATIONS PEOPLES?
There was misleading and incorrect information released that “secret” voice documents revealed plans to pay reparations to Indigenous Australians. These documents were minutes from Voice consultation meetings and the comments in question were made by individuals who attended those meetings. The documents don’t show either the government or the National Indigenous Australians Agency seeking to pay reparations.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE VOICE AND SOVEREIGNITY & TREATY?
A treaty outlines the terms under which, in Australia’s case, settlers may enter the land over which another party, Indigenous owners, has sovereignty and share in its resources. A Voice to Parliament will be a permanent body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives to give independent advice to the Australian Parliament and the Executive Government on laws and policies that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The Voice to Parliament being enshrined in the constitution doesn’t, and couldn’t cede Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples sovereignty.
WHY ESTABLISH A ‘REPRESENTATIVE BODY’ WITH NO VETO POWER?
It’s correct that the Voice wouldn’t have the power to veto bills or force Parliament to act. It would be an advisory body only. This is what’s proposed in the Uluru Statement of the Heart, following over a decade of work and extensive consultation with First Nations people. The role of the Voice is important in improving the quality and effectiveness of laws and government policies. But it couldn’t determine what those laws and policies will be. It would, however, ensure the government and Parliament are better informed when making laws or decisions on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
DOES AUSTRALIA HAVE ANY OBLIGATIONS UNDER INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW TO HAVE MEANINGFUL CONSULTATION WITH INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS ON MATTERS THAT AFFECT THEM?
A Statement of Compatibility accompanied the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023. The Statement of Compatibility confirms that “this Bill is compatible with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments” to which Australia is a signatory. It states that the Constitution Alteration Bill engages the following rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:
The right to self-determination.
The right to equality and non-discrimination.
The right to take part in public affairs.
WHICH INJUSTICES ARE INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS CURRENTLY FACING?
Over-policing. Structural racism. Unfair policies and discriminatory laws. First Nations Peoples continue to face injustices across housing, healthcare, schools, our workplaces – everywhere. Across Australia, children as young as 10 are charged, brought before a court, sentenced and locked up behind bars. This disproportionately impacts First Nations kids and causes irreparable harm to children.
WHY SHOULD AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL BE INVOLVED WITH THE REFERENDUM CAMPAIGN?
Answer: Amnesty International believes that everyone is entitled to live in a world where their human rights are recognised, realised, and protected. With a powerful legacy of over 60 years of human rights advocacy, Amnesty International Australia has the capacity to make a difference in the upcoming referendum and help deliver a successful ‘Yes’ result, which would help progress First Nations rights and justice.
As supporters and champions of human rights, it is essential to understand and promote the Voice to Parliament as a vital step towards recognising the sovereignty, self-determination, and agency of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. By amplifying their voices, we can work towards a more just and inclusive society.
DOES THE VOICE TIE INTO RAISING THE AGE OR OTHER INDIGENOUS RIGHTS CAMPAIGNS AIA WORKS ON?
Answer: The Voice to Parliament will provide expert advice to the federal government on issues, opportunities and priorities specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups around the continent have long called for a raise to the age of criminal responsibility in Australia, with First Nations kids being incarcerated at far higher rates than other Australians, so it is likely an issue the Voice will be concerned with. Not only does Amnesty International Australia’s campaign supporting the Voice tie in with our existing campaigns for First Nations human rights, we consider the Voice to be a significant opportunity to advance First Nations human rights across many more issues.
WHAT IS AMNESTY ACTUALLY DOING TO SUPPORT THE ‘YES’ VOTE?
Answer: Amnesty International Australia has launched a campaign led by First Nations staff spanning on-the-ground activism, community organising and digital engagement to support the ‘Yes’ case in the referendum.
Our campaign aims to engage, educate and mobilise our supporters and the wider Australian public securing widespread support for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament and leading to a successful referendum. Pledge your support to vote yes now!
Looking for more information? If your question hasn’t been answered above, let us know by submitting your question here. Our team of Indigenous Rights campaigners will help you understand the facts, so you can make an informed decision when casting your vote. You can also read our myth-busting blog to get the real facts about the Voice.