For thousands of years, aboriginal people brought their children here to teach them ancient stories infused with old wisdom, life lessons about how to treat others and live in harmony with the nature. They still do. If you slow down a bit and listen to their stories, you can see it for yourself how they are written into the red walls of Uluru, how its features act as characters in old plays and how every furrow and stone has its own meaning. This is the place to bow in front of our mother nature and its extraordinary element, resting majestically in the middle of endless desert…

The Voice to Parliament: Yes, no and undecided

This week, Australia heads to the polls to vote in a referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

What is the Voice? 

An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament would be an elected advisory body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that would make representations to the Government and Parliament on matters and policy relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

It was borne from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which you can read in full here

It would not have a veto power. 

That is, it would not have the power to override government decisions. 

It is only advisory. 

Advisory bodies have been established before, such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), however, they were not enshrined in the constitution and were disbanded.

The Voice to Parliament advisory body would be enshrined in the constitution, meaning it could not be disbanded. However, this requires an amendment to the constitution and to amend the constitution there must be a referendum.

The question being put to voters is: 

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? 

You will be asked to write your vote in a box on your ballot paper: yes or no.

‘Yes’ campaign

Advocates for the Voice believe it is a progressive step towards self-determination for First Nations people. 

Supporters say the Voice will enable First Nations people to have a direct say on matters of culture, health, education, social well-being and more. 

Matters that may not currently make it to the Parliament or are dismissed and ignored.

In a speech at Marie Claire’s Power Talks earlier this month, Professor Megan Davis, a Cobble Cobble woman and constitutional lawyer, said the Voice allows First Nations people to have a “seat at the table”.

“This change will be hugely empowering for our community, both in terms of the acceptance and love that we will feel from all Australians, but also because it’s a practical change that will empower us to have a seat at the table to make things happen. And it will allow women’s voices to flourish.”

“It corrects the exclusion of our people from our country’s founding document,” she continued. 

“A ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum in ten days’ time means we wake up to a better future, a more equal, more inclusive and more expansive idea of what our country can be.” 

Other ‘Yes’ advocates, like Yorta Yorta man and rapper, Briggs, say they support the Voice because “we’re living in no” and he wants to see change. 

Briggs’ explainer video in support of the Voice has been shared widely across social media.

In addition to constitutional lawyers, First Nations activists, musicians, sporting stars and more, early polling by the Yes campaign suggested that 80% of First Nations people support an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament enshrined in the constitution.

But, there are valid concerns and opposition from the community as well. 

Opposition to the Voice from First Nations people

Historically, since the beginning of invasion and colonisation, First Nations people have been oppressed by racist policy, targeted over-policing and brutality, and successive government’s wilful ignorance of community advice and recommendations. 

It comes as no surprise then, that there are many First Nations people who have concerns and criticism when it comes to anything proposed by the Australian government that is supposed to “help” us. 

There are those who even stand in staunch opposition to the Voice to Parliament. 

One major criticism of the Voice is that there is no veto power. 

Many First Nations people who oppose the Voice say it doesn’t go far enough in seeking self-determination. 

There are also concerns that if the referendum is successful it will result in complacency from Australians and its government to fight for more for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. 

Another criticism is that as First Nations people only make up 3% of the total national population, it is largely a non-Indigenous decision - undermining the self-determination it purports to strive for.

A leading concern, from the beginning of the debate, has been that recognition of First Nations people in the Australian Constitution will cede Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty. 

Multiple constitutional experts have responded to this claim and asserted constitutional recognition cannot and will not cede First Nations sovereignty. 

Independent Senator and DjabWurrung Gunnai Gunditjmara woman, Lidia Thorpe, has been vocal about her opposition to the Voice. 

Senator Thorpe leads the Blak Sovereignty Movement and has called for a treaty first. 

At her National Press Club address in August, Senator Thorpe called the proposed Voice “window dressing for constitutional recognition.”

“[The Voice] promises to finally fix the Aboriginal problem,” said Thorpe. “It is false hope because it is tricking people into genuinely believing that a powerless advisory body is going to protect our country and sacred sites, save our lives, keep our babies at home.” 

The undecided

There are also those who are undecided. 

The debate has heated up in recent weeks, as well as an increase in racism directed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

Like the marriage equality postal survey in 2017, First Nations peoples’ lives and rights have been debated, weaponised and attacked across almost every media outlet and public platform available. 

It can be mentally and emotionally draining and can leave everyone confused as to where to turn for answers. 

Keep reading. Keep engaging in conversations with your family and friends. 

Don’t leave the heavy lifting to First Nations people. 

Make an informed decision. Don’t know? Find out. 

What happens next? 

On October 14th, all Australian citizens who are eligible to vote will head to the polls.

If there is a double majority in favour of the Voice to Parliament, it will be enshrined in the constitution.

After that, nothing is certain but this: whichever way the pendulum swings, First Nations people will continue to seek justice, self-determination and better outcomes for our country, people and the next generations.