On Saturday, millions of people will vote on whether to amend Australia’s Constitution to establish a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Here are the basics to prepare you to vote.
What is the Voice?
The voice in Parliament is a proposed advisory body this would be enshrined in the constitution.
He would represent First Nations people from across Australia to provide advice to parliament and government on decisions, policies and laws that affect their lives.
These would be issues relating to the social, spiritual and economic well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The voice would not have the power to overthrow Parliament — something you may have heard referred to as “veto powers.”
Why do we vote on The Voice?
Because it is a proposal to amend the Australian Constitutionwhich describes the way Australia is governed.
The Constitution takes precedence over all other laws and cannot be amended by the government of the day.
It is so important that the only way to change this is by a vote of the Australian peoplewhat we call a referendum.
This means that if the Voice referendum wins, it can only be removed by another referendum.
A referendum is different from a normal state or federal election: you don’t vote for a party or representative, you vote Yes or No on a specific issue.
It is the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), which is an independent statutory authority, which organizes the referendum, not the government.
A the double majority must accept the proposed changes for the referendum to be successful – more on this below.
What is the wording of the question I am voting on?
Ballots will ask voters to write the answer “Yes” or “No” to this question:
A Bill: to amend the Constitution to recognize Australia’s first peoples by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice.
Do you approve of this proposed change?
It’s really important to write the word “Yes” or “No”.
The AEC says not to tick or cross on your ballot.
It’s because a cross would be considered an informal vote and will not be counted.
However, a checkmark would be considered a Yes vote.
The decision on ticks and crosses is based on a legal opinion from 1988 — 35 years ago — and updated advice from the Australian Government solicitor provided earlier this year.
When does the Voice vote take place?
This Saturday October 14.
Polling stations will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.local hour.
Where can I vote?
Polling booths will be installed in public buildings like schools, churches and halls.
The best way to find a polling station near you is to look at the AEC website
Can I vote early?
Yes, you can vote in advance on an early voting center.
The best way to find a polling station near you is to look at the AEC website and press the “before election day” button.
What about postal votes?
You can still apply to send your vote by mail, but you will have to be quick because applications close at 6 p.m. today.
Once you have applied, you will receive a postal voting packet, which you must have completed and attested to by 6 p.m. Saturday.
They must be returned as soon as possible.
You can also submit a request for a paper postal vote by print this downloadable form or pick one up at any AEC office.
You can return paper applications by by mail, fax or to the nearest AEC officebut remember they must reach the AEC at the latest 6 p.m. today.
Can I vote by phone?
Yes, but only if you are stationed in Antarctica Or are blind Or have low vision.
You will need to call the AEC to register as a voter by telephone.
The number to call is 1800 913 993 if you are in Australia or +61 2 6271 4611 if you are overseas.
Can I vote online?
No, our laws do not allow it.
Is voting compulsory?
Yes, everyone registered on the electoral roll is required to vote.
If you are registered and do not vote, you will need to provide a valid reason why or you risk a fine of $20.
What are the yes and no arguments?
Tap the boxes below to see the Yes and No campaign arguments.
Here are the reasons supporting the Yes campaign published in the referendum brochure.
- They argue that constitutional recognition of Indigenous people as Australia’s original inhabitants would bring about practical change and improve outcomes for First Nations people.
- The idea came directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, through the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
- They say The Voice is a way to bring real improvements to indigenous people in life expectancy, infant mortality, health, education and employment. It would also help governments use funding more effectively and work more efficiently.
- The campaign says voting Yes means reconciling with our past and moving towards a better future
We have verified these arguments which you can read here.
Here are the reasons supporting the No campaign published in the referendum brochure.
- They say it could pose a risk to our system of government, possibly leading to legal challenges, delays and dysfunction.
- They say we need more details than what has been provided about how Voice works.
- They argue that a vote in the Constitution for a single group of Australians means a permanent division of the country.
- The No campaign believes the Voice will not help Indigenous Australians or help close the gap.
We have verified these arguments here.
The “No Progressive” camp also does not support Voice’s proposal, for reasons that differ from those of the most prominent No activists.
They argue that Voice does not go far enough, calling it impotent as an advisory body without veto power over Parliament.
Others believe the treaty should be a priority, viewing the constitution as an invalid colonial document.
What is a double majority?
A double majority is necessary for a successful referendum.
This is when
- In a referendum, a majority of Australian voters must support the proposed change.
- A majority of voters in the majority of Australia’s six states must support the change (so at least four states)
If any of these conditions are not met, the referendum fails. The word “States” is very important here.
Australia has six states (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia), while the ACT and Northern Territory are territories.
The votes of people in the ACT and Northern Territory will count towards the national total, not the state majority tally.
What happens next?
It depends on the result of the referendum.
If the yes vote prevails, processes will then be launched to formalize the details of how the voice works.
None of this has been decided yet.
When the government is asked about the details of the Voice body, it points to a comprehensive report by professors Tom Calma and Marcia Langton, which sets out proposals for how it would work.
You can read the full report at the federal government’s pro-Voice website.
If you are unable to load the form, you can access it here.