Australians will go to the polls this year to vote on whether they should rewrite the constitution to include one Indigenous vote in parliament in first referendum in a generation.
Legislation for the crucial vote passed the Senate on Monday, meaning the referendum must now take place within six months.
So, what is the indigenous vote in parliament? How does it work and what would it do?
Legislation for a referendum on an Indigenous vote in parliament was passed by the Senate on Monday, meaning the vote must take place in the next six months (Photo: Anthony Albanese at Garma Festival in northeastern Arnhem Land, NT in 2022)
What is the Indigenous Voice in Parliament?
The Indigenous Voice to Parliament aims to provide permanent representation and voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at every level of government.
It would be a body that represents the interests of Australia’s First Nations people.
The Voice is part of an ongoing reconciliation process that has been going on for decades.
A key moment was at a historic gathering of First Nations people across Australia at the 2017 First Nations National Constitutional Convention.
During the event, about 250 Indigenous delegates gathered in Uluru and reached a consensus statement of 440 words, known as the Uluru Declaration of the Heart, on the next steps of reconciliation.
The objectives of the declaration were to have a voice in parliament, a treaty and to tell the truth.
The statement refers to the 1967 referendum, which amended the constitution to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the population.
It also gave the federal government the power to legislate for Indigenous Australians.
From the Uluru Statement from the Heart came the Voice – a body that would provide input to the government on any policies and laws that would affect their lives.
This included matters related to the social, economic and spiritual well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Simply put, the Voice would be an advisory body to all levels of government on how parliamentary decisions affect First Nations people.
The Indigenous Voice to Parliament aims to provide permanent representation and voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at all levels of government (Photo: The Gumatj clan performing bunggul, a traditional dance, at the Garma Festival)
How would it work?
The final format is yet to be determined and will be approved by parliament after the referendum, but it is proposed to make the vote consisting of two parts, a National Voice and Local and Regional Voices.
The Local and Regional votes would consist of 35 local voices representing districts across the country, each individually selected to be the voice of the communities they represent.
This would help reflect that wide range of opinions of different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The elected Local Voices would engage with politicians at the local, state and federal level and provide their input.
The National Voice would have 24 members, which should have a gender balance on the board.
Each individual would be chosen for it serve a four-year term and may only serve two terms, similar to U.S. presidents.
Two full-time co-chairs would be elected by the members and the National Voice would be elected by the local and regional votes.
It is proposed that The Voice be divided into two parts, a National Voice and Local and Regional Voices, which provide advice on issues affecting the social, economic and spiritual well-being of First Nations.
What would The Voice do?
The purpose of the Voice is to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders across Australia have a say in how the country is run.
The Voice would provide independent advice to the government and each representative would be chosen by First Nations people to best articulate the thoughts of each local community.
It would represent both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
However, there would be limitations to what the voice can do.
The Voice is solely an advisory board to the Australian Parliament and Government and therefore it would only be there to advise on matters specifically affecting Indigenous people.
Therefore, it wouldn’t power to override parliament or legislation – known as ‘veto’ powers.
The Voice would provide independent advice to the government and each representative would be chosen by First Nations people to best articulate the thoughts of each local community (Photo: Anthony Albanese and Northern Land Council Chairman Samuel Bush-Blanasi)
When is the referendum?
The first Australian referendum of the 21st century is coming up, but the date has yet to be confirmed.
The law providing for a referendum on an indigenous vote in parliament was passed by the Senate on Monday, meaning the vote must take place before the end of the year.
While the government is yet to announce a specific date, it should be held at least two months after the legislation is passed.
That means it cannot be held before the end of August, nor later than six months after its expiry.
The Prime Minister has stated it will be in the last quarter of the year, but that is as close to a date as it is now.
Australia’s last referendum took place on November 6, 1999 and consisted of two questions.
The first question was whether Australia should become a republic replacing the Queen and Governor-General with a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.
The second was about amending the Constitution to include a preamble – a short piece of text intended to introduce the Constitution.
In the end, the republic referendum was rejected.
Since Australian Federation in 1901, only eight of the 44 constitutional amendment proposals have been approved.
The most recent successful referenda were held in 1977, some 46 years ago.
In that referendum, Australians agreed that ACT and Northern Territory votes should be included in the referendum counts, that political parties should decide who fills a temporary vacancy in the Senate, and that Supreme Court justices should retire at the age of 70. should go.
However, a fourth question about simultaneous elections to the House of Representatives and the Senate was rejected.
The referendum will be held in the last quarter of 2023 (Photo: First Nations Referendum Working Group member Marcia Langton addresses the media at a press conference)
What question will Australia vote on?
The wording of the Voice referendum has been debated for a long time, but at the end of March the Referendum Working Group has recommended its wording.
The question is asked:
A bill to amend the constitution to recognize Australia’s first peoples by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you agree with this proposed change?
Voters then vote yes or no to the amendment to the constitution.
More than 50 percent of the vote is needed for the referendum to succeed.
To amend the constitution, the vote must be a double majority, which is a majority of the people in Australia and a majority in the states.
Therefore, to pass, four of the six states must have a majority of yes votes, as well as the majority of the country voting yes.
Residents of the Northern Territory and the ACT will only have their votes counted towards the nationwide majority.
The question is: A bill: to amend the constitution to recognize Australia’s first peoples by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you agree with this proposed change?