When I was 12 years old, I asked my parents to give me a copy of the Constitution for my birthday. I’m sure no parent has been given an easier or even unusual birthday request. It was definitely a sign that I was very much saying ‘Nerdus Maximus!’
As an adult, my interest in the Constitution took shape through law school at university and when I became an associate of a Supreme Court justice.
The Constitution, drafted in the 1890s, is the invisible pillar that holds our great national effort together. But our constitution contains a glaring omission: it does not recognize Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
The referendum on the Voice could change that.
The 29-word question asks us to do two things. The first is to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the first Australians. This is a statement of fact that completes our Constitution by giving this recognition.
Liberal MP Julian Leeser (pictured) is one of the few members of his party to support the Indigenous Voice to Parliament
The second is to create an advisory body on matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. That body will be known as the Voice.
The Voice will be able to work with all levels of government and the public service on issues such as indigenous health, education, housing, security and economic development.
Australia is one of the most prosperous countries in the world, but we know that in almost every outcome there is a divide between Indigenous Australians and other Australians.
For example, Indigenous Australians have an unemployment rate nine times higher than other Australians. The suicide rate is two and a half times higher, and a young Aboriginal man is statistically more likely to end up in prison than to go to university.
For too long we have done things with and for Aboriginal people, but not with Aboriginal people. It’s time we change that.
As a liberal, I believe that the best decisions are made when you consult the people directly affected by it, and that you make a country stronger when you strengthen the communities within it.
Mr Leeser acknowledged the significant gap between Indigenous Australians and other Australians, such as the eight-year difference in life expectancy (pictured with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Mr Leeser was an adviser to Mr Abbott in 2001)
The federal member for Berowra wrote, “As a liberal, I believe the best decisions are made when you consult the people directly affected by it” (photo LR, Native Senators Kerrynne Liddle and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price with Mr. Leeser)
Some people have said they fear the vote is about giving special privileges to Indigenous peoples and will result in two classes of Australians. That argument ignores the outcomes Indigenous Australians face – one in two Indigenous Australians live in the most socially deprived areas in Australia, and one in five Indigenous households live in accommodation without kitchens or sanitary facilities.
I won’t pretend that after two centuries of relative failures that will change overnight if you vote yes, but I will say we have a better chance if we can create local and regional voices that can speak out on issues as the safety of women and children, about school attendance in childhood and recidivism in adults.
Some have protested the Voice, saying it will become super-powered and make decisions on every government matter, from submarines to the purchase of paperclips. That ignores the simple fact that the Voice will not make decisions, but will only be an advisory body.
Equally important are the priorities for the vote, such as tackling the eight-year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous Australians and other Australians, far more compelling than some of the outlandish suggestions that have been made.
The former shadow minister for Indigenous Australians countered fears the voice will become super-powered, writing that it will simply be an advisory body
“The Voice embodies many of the values I hold dear as a liberal and Australian,” said Mr Leeser. (Photo LR: Liberal Member for Bass Bridget Archer, Liberals for Yes Kate Carnell and Mr Leeser, all supporting Voice to Parliament)
Over the next four months, Australians will have ample opportunity to consider the arguments in a way and at a time that suits them. I am confident that the Australians will seriously consider the case for change made.
The AEC pamphlet, which will most likely be distributed to all households in September, contains the official arguments for the YES case and the NO case. There will also be public gatherings and local street stalls across the country in the coming months to answer Australians’ questions.
The Voice embodies many of the values I hold as a liberal and as an Australian. It is a safe constitutional amendment that will make a meaningful difference to the lives of our indigenous brothers and sisters.
That’s why I’m going to vote YES.
Who is Julian Leeser?
Born and raised in Sydney, Julian Leeser joined the Liberal Party in 1992.
He became the youngest councilor in Australia when he was elected to Woollahra Council at the age of 19 and an elected delegate to the Constitutional Convention at the age of 21 in 1998.
Mr Leeser worked as an adviser to Tony Abbott in 2001, when the former prime minister was John Howard’s industrial relations minister.
Prior to his election, he was a senior executive at Australian Catholic University, executive director of the Menzies Research Centre, attorney at Mallesons Stephen Jacques and associate of Supreme Court Justice Ian Callinan.
Mr. Leeser became the federal member for the Berowra seat in the 2016 election and has been representing the electorate ever since.
He is good friends with Aboriginal Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Indigenous affairs advocate Warren Mundine, despite both leading the Voice to Parliament No campaign.