What you need to know: The Proposed Constitutional Amendment and the Road to Referendum

The current Federal Government proposes to hold a referendum to determine whether an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament should be enshrined in the Commonwealth Constitution. This First Nations Voice to Parliament has been a hot topic of debate throughout much of the last twelve months.

Background to First Nations Voice to Parliament

The “Voice to Parliament” in Australia originated from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, issued in May 2017 at the conclusion of the First Nations National Constitutional Convention.

The Convention brought together more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates from across Australia, who discussed issues relating to constitutional recognition and self-determination.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart called for:

  • A First Nations Voice’s enshrined in the Australian Constitution
  • A “Makarrata Commission” to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about Australia’s history.

Post-Uluru Statement:

1. The Referendum Council Final Report

Following the release of the Uluru Statement, the Government established a referendum council to advise it on the next steps. The council recommended that the government hold a referendum to amend the Constitution to establish a “Voice to Parliament” and a “Makarrata Commission”. However, the then Turnbull-government rejected this recommendation.

2. 2018 Joint Select Committee

In 2018, the Joint Select Committee acknowledged broad stakeholder support for a Constitutionally enshrined Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

They recommended a co-design process for developing the model of the Voice, with a report and legislation within the term of the 46th Parliament. They also supported truth-telling and recommended the establishment of a National Resting Place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains.

3. Indigenous Voice co-design process 2019–2021 and Final Report 2021

The consultation process led to the development of the design principles for the Voice to Parliament, which the First Nations Referendum Working Group agreed upon by in 2020.

The National Co-design Group was tasked with developing models to enhance local and regional decision-making and options for a voice for Indigenous Australians to government.

4: Next Step – How do we get a first nations voice to parliament?

As The Voice to Parliament is proposed for inclusion in the constitution, a referendum is in order. A referendum on the Indigenous Voice to parliament will happen, but the date has not been confirmed yet.

Referendums usually ask a question or questions that all eligible electors must vote either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on. Voting in a referendum is very similar to voting in an election. Electors go to a polling place on polling day and cast their vote on a ballot paper.



What Is The Voice?

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice will be:

  • A permanent body to make representations to the Australian Parliament and Executive Government on legislation and policy affecting Indigenous people
  • promoting self-determination by giving Indigenous people a greater say in matters affecting them.
  • providing independent advice to the Parliament and Government on matters relating to Indigenous people.
  • chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and will have its own resources to research, develop, and make representations
  • representative of Indigenous communities, gender-balanced, and include youth.
  • empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful, and culturally informed.
  • accountable and transparent, subject to standard governance and reporting requirements, and members will be subject to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
  • ‘subservient’ to Parliament and won’t have the power to veto legislation.

For more information go to: https://ulurustatement.org/education/design-principles/

What will be added to the Constitution:

The proposed wording of the section for addition into the Australian constitution, uses broad language. This will allow for the scope of power and functions to broaden if necessary in the future.

Chapter IX – Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:

(1) There shall be a body to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;

(2) The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

(3) The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.

The question that the referendum will ask: 

A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Do you approve this proposed alteration?

More to come. 

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Nicole Byrne

Content Creator | Media Coordinator
O'Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors


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