Explained: Australia's Indigenous voice to parliament referendum

The referendum will be held on October 14

AUSTRALIA-INDIGENOUS/REFERENDUM Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hands out Yes campaign material for the Voice in Kings Cross, Sydney, August 30, 2023 | Reuters

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, on Wednesday, announced the date for Australians to vote on a proposed law to create a so-called Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the nation's first referendum since 1999.

The referendum, which will be held on October 14, would give the nation's most disadvantaged ethnic minority more say on government policy. Albanese announcing the date for voting on the referendum triggered intense campaigning by both sides of the argument.

Voting yes to the Indigenous Voice to Parliament would give Indigenous people a say in policies that affect their lives and would lead to less disadvantage. If a majority voted yes on the referendum, it would mean modifying the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia. 

The First Peoples of Australia are groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, with each group having their distinct culture, language, beliefs and practices. They were present in Australia thousands of years before colonisation. 

Post the vote, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice body would be created. The body will be able to make representations or make official complaints on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth. 

This will also enable the Parliament to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in accordance with the consitution. 

If a majority votes yes on the referendum, the parliament will design the Voice via legislation. In the meanwhile, the Australian Electoral Commission is urging voters to register or update their details on the electoral roll in order to be eligible to vote. 

The Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, has said she will ask the Voice to prioritise Indigenous health, housing, education and jobs, the Guardian reported. Critics have said the Voice could spur court challenges. 

“It’s about drawing a line on the poor outcomes from the long legacy of failed programs and broken policies, and listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Burney told the Guardian.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice body, which will be chosen by First Nations people based on the wishes of local communities, will give independent advice to parliament and government. 

The body will be accountable and transparent; it will also be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful, culturally informed, gender balanced and include youth.

The voice will be designed in a manner that will allow it to function coherently with existing organisations and traditional structures. The Calma-Langton co-design report has recommended that members of the board serve four-year terms with half of the membership determined every two years. There would be a cap of two consecutive terms for each member. It would have two members from each state. Five more members will represent remote areas, with one member each from the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales. 

The Calma-Langton model recommended an ethics council; also two co-chairs-- one of each gender will be selected by members of the voice every two years. There would be local and regional voices to provide advice to governments at all levels regarding policy and programs. 


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