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Understanding The Voice: What are people voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to?

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

By Olivia Daly and Grace Sukari

If you’ve read the news lately, I’m 100 per cent certain you would’ve stumbled across the term ‘The Voice’. No, I’m not talking about the reality singing show with the four red chairs, ‘The Voice’ refers to the development and implementation of an Indigenous advisory committee into federal parliament. The government will be obliged to ‘consult’ this body on all “matters relating to the social, spiritual and economic wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”. The most important aspect of this proposal is that it will be enacted by altering the Australian constitution, thus, prompting a referendum. However, this ‘change in the constitution’ is what has perpetuated a mass divide between individuals who will vote ‘Yes’, against those who will vote ‘No’.

But what does it mean to vote Yes and No? What are the contrasting arguments?

Before we delve into the points for both campaigns, we must establish the actual question that will be voted on.

Though possibly subject to change, the current proposed question is:

‘A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?’

Summary of the YES side.

The ‘Yes’ Campaign is detailed in a pamphlet developed by the Australian Federal Government, and claims that a vote Yes would contribute to a “better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait people and all Australians”. But what does this really mean?

The ‘Yes’ Campaign says a ‘Yes’ vote is a means to recognise the 65,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander presence and culture in Australia. It sees ‘The Voice’ as an opportunity to listen to these peoples’ advice about matters that affect their lives. It is, however, slightly ambiguous as to what these ‘matters’ include, and how exactly this will assist in ‘closing the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The ‘Yes’ Campaign believes ‘The Voice’ will make “practical progress in Indigenous health, education, employment and housing”, issues that have systematically impacted Indigenous lives for generations.

The ‘Yes’ Campaign recognises that ‘The Voice’ body “will include Indigenous Australians from every state and territory” and that members “will be chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their local area and serve for a fixed period”. Thus, it is implied that non-Indigenous or non-Torres Strait Islander people in Australia will not have the capacity to potentially ‘vote’ for ‘The Voice’ members, and it is unclear as to how long these members will serve.

Patrick Dodson, a Yawuru Elder and Senator for Western Australia stated ‘The Voice’ “will make our decisions and directions more informed and more successful” and “will help heal our nation” as Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be formally recognised in the Australian Constitution, promoting unity and, according to the Australian Government, supporting a proposal backed by over 80% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Ultimately, a vote ‘Yes’ is considered a vote for “unity, hope and to make a positive difference.”

Summary of the NO side.

Also in the pamphlet developed by the Australian Federal Government is the ‘No’ Campaign, which presents The Voice as “divisive and permanent”, and pushes the concept of ‘altering the constitution’ as one that “presents a real risk to our system of government”.

The ‘No’ Campaign does recognise our collective desire to ‘close the gap’, but claims this ‘extreme’ approach is one that “risks legal challenges, delays and dysfunctional government”, and has the potential of “overlooking the needs of regional and remote communities”. They fail, however, to put forward a ‘less extreme’ solution to ‘closing the gap’, or recognise what else could be done to assist Indigenous Australians who have been burdened by systematic issues for generations.

The ‘No’ Campaign declares that having The Voice enshrined in our Constitution means the nation will be permanently divided by race and goes against the principle that all Australians should be equal before the law. Instead, they recognise how there are “currently hundreds of Indigenous representative bodies at all levels of government.”

Whilst the ‘Yes’ Campaign only acknowledges The Voice as yielding power in “matters relating to their social, spiritual and economic well-being”, the ‘No’ Campaign sees it as holding too much power, as the body extends to all areas of “Executive Government”. This means “decisions in relation to the economy, national security, infrastructure, health, education and more” are all within its scope, and could be detrimental to the functioning of our democracy.

The ‘No’ Campaign recognises how there are many questions surrounding the intricacies of The Voice that have been left unanswered by the ‘Yes’ Campaign, particularly stating “We don’t know how it will help disadvantaged communities and close the gap”, which is essentially the purpose of the referendum.

Ultimately, the ‘No’ Campaign claims that “If you don’t know, vote no.”

Obviously, this is an historic moment in Australian history and whatever the outcome may be, it is important to acknowledge that this is a step in the right direction towards democratic discussion and ensuring that all groups are included in parliament. It is crucial that you do your own research and form your own opinions, however, we hope this article has provided you with a better understanding of the different sides of the debate.


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