What is the Voice to Parliament and how will you vote?

Corporate Affairs, Government Relations, Parliament, Politics, Reconciliation

Staff Writer 19 Oct 2022
4 mins
Group of Aboriginal Australians people dancing traditional dance during Australia Day celebrations

Sometime during the 2023-24 financial year, the Albanese Government will ask Australians to vote in a referendum enshrining a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution – a key reform called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

This is a significant national issue – a yes vote will result in the first change to our Constitution since 1977. Those changes related to the retirement of judges, Senate vacancies and the rules around referendums.

A decade before, in 1967, the Constitution was changed to recognise Aboriginal people as citizens – giving them the same rights as the colonisers who removed them from their land, along with everybody else who had called Australia home since 1788.

It was then, more than half a century ago, that Australians voted to change the Constitution to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be counted as part of the population and the Commonwealth would be able to make laws for them.

More than half a century later, Australians will soon be asked to vote on changing the Constitution to allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to have a voice to Parliament – enabling them to influence those laws.

As written in the Uluru Statement: “In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard.

So, what do you know about the Voice to Parliament?

At a recent Noongar Chamber of Commerce and Industry breakfast function, attended by around 100 people, presenter Danny Ford asked the audience if they had read the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Only about half of those present raised their hands.

The attendees included NCCI members and partners, representatives of companies engaged with reconciliation, and prominent individuals involved with the Noongar business community.

Mr Ford is successful in business, an NCCI board member, and a Noongar leader. He was recognised this year with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his services to community for more than three decades.

Portrait photograph of Danny Ford

Danny Ford has urged all Australians to read the Uluru Statement from the Heart before the Voice referendum. Photo: Wungening Aboriginal Corporation/Facebook

Over that time his work included child protection, family support, Aboriginal affairs, housing and training, and, more recently, providing businesses and organisations with cultural awareness training and reconciliation planning support.

“The Voice to Parliament won’t happen unless you guys support it. I won’t tell you whether to vote yes or no, but you do need to be informed,” Mr Ford said.

“We can never be the nation we want to be until Aboriginal people have a Voice to Parliament.

“My plea to you is to read the Uluru Statement and be informed before you vote.”

Mr Ford had just finished explaining to the audience that when Aboriginal people were removed from their land in WA after colonisation in 1829, they were locked out of their ‘old’ economy and then prevented from being part of the ‘new’ economy for another 150 years.

They were not allowed to buy land, they had to seek permission to spend their wages and were even prevented from being out after dark.

Things have changed. Today there are many Aboriginal businesspeople thriving in the ‘new’ economy, just like Mr Ford and other members of the NCCI. But there are many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still effectively locked out due to their disadvantage.

As NCCI Chairman Gordon Cole told the breakfast, it is the mission of the NCCI to “drop ladders down” to their people, to support them to build capacity and capability to run a successful business. Giving Aboriginal people a Voice to Parliament, he contends, is one way of doing that.

So, what is the Voice to Parliament?

According to the Uluru Statement website: “A First Nations Voice to Parliament is the first reform called for in the Uluru Statement. This is a Constitutionally-enshrined body of First Nations with a direct line to Federal Parliament, able to influence laws and policies that affect First Nations communities first-hand – at the point they originate. A Constitutional Voice is both symbolic and substantive recognition.

“The second reform is the Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations (Treaty), and truth-telling (Truth). Voice, Treaty and Truth provide a clear and practical path forward for First Nations’ self-determination.”

Greens leader Adam Bandt was on ABC Radio last week calling on the Federal Government to introduce all three reforms at once – not just the Voice. While his intentions are good, those pushing for the Voice reform believe it would be too much too soon and will play into the hands of the ‘no’ campaigners.

What is the Uluru Statement – and why the Voice first?

The Uluru Statement is a call for Australians to recognise the history of Australia, before, during and after white settlement. It is an “attempt to give Indigenous values and identities a voice in policies and laws”.

Professor Megan Davis, Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous at UNSW Sydney, who also holds the Balnaves Chair in Constitutional Law, was a leader in the development of the Statement, and believes the sequence of Voice, then Treaty, then Truth, is critical.

Professor Megan Davis in front of artwork displaying the Uluru Statement from the Heart

Professor Megan Davis says an Indigenous voice is critical to Australia’s process of Reconciliation. Photo: Richard Freeman/UNSW

She says the Voice to Parliament must come first, because that is the opportunity for Constitutional recognition. Treaty and Truth don’t require Constitutional change.

Professor Davis has also urged the Federal Government to make the referendum question for putting Voice into the Constitution very simple – a simple question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

“Most Australians think it’s fair, that when you pass laws and policies about our communities, that we’re at the table,” Professor Davis said.

“We don’t seek a green voice. We don’t seek a red voice. We don’t seek a blue voice. We seek a black voice.”

So, if you want to make an informed decision when it comes time to vote – read the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Its closing line is: “We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”


Editor’s note: Purple has developed a Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan which supports the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We are also partners with the NCCI and can support all clients with the development of Reconciliation Action Plans in partnership with Aboriginal businesses.