On October 14, Australians will go to the polls and vote either Yes Or No to include the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution.
It is proposed that Voice to Parliament will be an advisory body made up of First Nations people from across the country who can advise on policies that affect them.
It is important to note that this is only an advisory body — it will not be able to compel a government of the day to adopt, withdraw or modify a policy — it will not have any additional powers other than to give advice to the government.
The Voice to Parliament proposal grew out of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was attended by more than 1,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with 250 delegates.
The constitutional amendment would be the first time Indigenous Australians have been recognized in the constitution if the vote is successful.
So how would the Voice be different from other government advisory bodies? And don’t there already be indigenous advisory bodies?
Are there already indigenous advisory bodies to the government?
Bodies previously established to advise the government on indigenous matters, such as the National Aboriginal Advisory Committee (NACC), the National Aboriginal Council and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), have since been abolished .
This is something that the two main parties, when they were in government, did towards indigenous representative bodies.
This is why when First Nations people met at Uluru, it was included in their statement that they specifically wanted the Voice enshrined in the constitution, to prevent a future government from abolishing the body without holding another referendum.
What about other government advisory bodies?
There are currently 110 committees or advisory groups that “develop policy and provide advice on specific issues” registered on the federal government’s website.
Some of these you may have never heard of, or even noticed, were advising the government, such as the National Bloodborne Virus and Sexually Transmitted Infections Oversight Subcommittee or the Reference Group on foods for early childhood.
Each group has a number of experts in their field, such as the 31 medical professionals who work for the aforementioned subcommittee on sexually transmitted diseases.
The Voice should function in the same way, in that it would be created to advise the government.
Would the Voice be different from other government advisory bodies?
The Voice will be different because, unlike other indigenous advisory bodies like the NACC and ATSIC, it will, as mentioned, be part of the constitution and therefore cannot be dissolved.
If the referendum passes, Parliament will then have to determine how the body is structured and operates.
The government hopes that Voice will be the first body designed with gender balance in mind and that its members will be elected nationally.
Under a current proposal from the body, which is subject to consultative changes, another thing that differentiates the Voice from any other Indigenous advisory group is its geographic distribution, out of the proposed 24 members.
Two from each state and territory – 16 in total, five from remote communities, two from Torres Strait and one representing Torres Strait Islanders on the mainland.
Individuals would serve a four-year term and would only be allowed to serve twice, and two full-time co-chairs would be elected by the members themselves.