The votes cast by more than 700,000 Australians – including 86,000 Indigenous people – will be worth less than those of other Australians in next month’s Voice referendum.
The proposal to amend the constitution to include an Indigenous advisory body to the Australian parliament will only come to fruition if two majorities are achieved in the October 14 vote.
This is a majority of all voters and a majority of states in favor of the proposal. Collectively, this is known as a “double majority”.
But it gives extra weight to votes cast by people with home addresses in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.
This means that the ballots of residents of Australia’s “non-states” – the ACT and the Northern Territory – with a combined total population of 714,654, only count towards the overall national majority, but not the runner-up.
Although a technicality, its impact is particularly real for those arguably most affected by the outcome of the October 14 poll, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Referendum rules give extra weight to votes cast by people whose home addresses are in Australian states but not in the ACT or Northern Territory. Pictured Anthony Albanese with Yothu Yindi board member Djaawa Yunupingu in East Arnhem Land in 2022
Votes cast by more than 700,000 Australians – including 86,000 Indigenous people – will be worth less than other Australians in next month’s Voice referendum.
This means the votes of the 86,012 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live in the two territories (including 76,487 from the Northern Territory) count less than those of other Australians.
Nearly 31 per cent of the NT’s population is Aboriginal.
Paul Kildea, a law professor at the University of New South Wales, said many people saw the current situation as “unfair and difficult to justify” in a column in the The conversation.
“State and territory ballots are not treated the same way (so) territory voters do not have a huge influence on the referendum results,” wrote Mr Kildea, an associate professor at the faculty in Law and Justice at UNSW.
“To many, this seems unfair and difficult to justify… should we change the rules so that voters in the territory are treated like everyone else?”
He acknowledged that a referendum would have to be very close for territorial votes to make a difference.
READ MORE: Call for 36 (not one) body of voices
Professor Marcia Langton, lead architect of Voice, called for the creation of a national Voice advisory body and 35 other “local and regional bodies” to work together with all levels of government.
Mr Kildea pointed out that throughout Australia’s history, the territories have had no say in any of the 44 national referendums.
The last one, in 1999, asked voters whether Australia should become a republic.
The Republican referendum was rejected due to divisions among Republicans over the proposed method for selecting the president.
The reason territorial votes count less is that when the Constitution was created at federation in 1901, the NT was part of South Australia and the ACT was part of New South Wales.
Mr Kildea said one argument for maintaining the status quo and not giving more power to territory votes is that territories are different from states.
States are sovereign bodies endowed with full powers of self-government, while the territories are under Commonwealth control.
He also said changing the amendment procedure would give territory voters too much influence over constitutional reform.
The argument for change, he said, was that the current model gave the votes of 572,000 Tasmanians more power than those of 714,000 Territorians.
Preparations for the Voice to Parliament project have led to contentious debates in recent weeks, amid bitter disagreements over racism and whether indigenous peoples would be better off or worse off.
On Monday, veteran rocker Gary “Angry” Anderson passionately explained why he would vote no.
The Rose Tattoo leader said after listening to Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and others, he did not believe the success of the referendum would help resolve “the real problems” facing indigenous people.
Ballots from residents of the ACT and Northern Territory – combined total population of 714,654 – count only towards the first required majority, the overall national tally, but not towards the second, a state majority.
Paul Kildea, professor of law at the University of New South Wales (pictured), said many people viewed the current situation, in which states’ referendum votes trump those of territories, as “unfair and difficult to justify.”
He also denounced criticism that anyone opposed to the creation of the advisory body tasked with informing the government was simply “racist”.
Meanwhile, in an emotional speech, Shadow Indigenous Affairs Minister Jacinta Price broke down in tears as she described the referendum as “the biggest greenhouse gas event our nation has ever seen”.
The architects of the Uluru Heart Declaration, which underpins The Voice, are holding a series of public debates to help voters in the run-up to the referendum.
Alyawarre woman Pat Anderson and Cobble Cobble woman Megan Davis will travel to Australian cities to speak about the history of the Uluru Declaration and the origins of the Voice proposal, starting in Melbourne this week.