On October 14, Australians will head to the polls to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament and whether to change the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.But what will happen following that result? Here’s a breakdown of what either Yes or No scenario could look like.
Let’s say, there’s a successful Yes vote. We are a constitutional monarchy operating under a parliamentary democracy, so the proposed constitutional change will have to be approved by Governor-General David Hurley, who represents the King.This is the exact wording of what would be added to the Constitution: Chapter IX Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VoiceIn recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:i. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;ii. 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;iii. 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.Enabled by Section 129(iii) of the Constitution, parliament will then design and pass legislation to set up the Voice, a process that will also involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the broader public.
Yes: What happens if the Voice to Parliament passes?
As with all legislation, the Voice will also have to pass the upper and lower houses, meaning senators and MPs will need to vote for it too.
The First Nations Referendum Working Group composed of First Nations leaders with diverse expertise has already established the key design principles for the Voice. These principles include the scope of the Voice as an independent advisory body, which would be able to make representations proactively or in response to requests from parliament and the executive government.These principles also outline what the Voice will not be: it won’t deliver programs and services and won’t have a veto power.
The Voice to Parliament design
Professor Marcia Langton AO and Professor Tom Calma AO published a report in July 2021 with a recommended base model for how the Voice to Parliament could be designed.The report details a local and regional voice for 35 regions, which would communicate with the national Voice.
How would the Voice to Parliament operate?
The proposed structure of a national Voice includes 24 members, which would be gender-balanced and composed of:
- Two members from each state and territory and the Torres Strait Islands
- A third member for remote representation for New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia
- And, the option for two additional members jointly appointed between the National Voice and the Government.
Linda Burney, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, has already said she will ask the Voice to consider the priority areas of Indigenous health, education, jobs and housing. These four areas can be expected to be the first points of focus.
What recommendations would the Voice to Parliament be making?
After winning the election on May 21, 2022, some of the first lines of Anthony Albanese’s victory speech were “On behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.”The Uluru Statement from the Heart was the result of the 2017 National Constitutional Convention. It is a document that calls for “for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.”
Delivering on a promise
A majority Yes vote would enable the government to deliver on this commitment.Other steps of the Uluru Statement of the Heart may come next, like the establishment of a Makarrata Commission for the purpose of Treaty-making and truth-telling, but the government has not clearly committed to these ideas throughout the Yes campaign so far.
Some polling shows that the No vote is at 51%, as of mid-September. If the majority of Australia votes No, there will be no changes made to the constitution.Could the Voice be legislated instead of being constitutionally recognised?Technically it is possible, but it’s unlikely.At the Garma Festival in August, the PM told ABC's Insiders program that there wouldn't be an alternative form of recognition for Indigenous Australians if the Voice referendum fails.This means that a permanent and constitutionally-enshrined First Nations advisory body will not be available to guide current and future government decision-making. But other advisory bodies exist at federal and state levels in other capacities.
No: What happens if the Voice to Parliament referendum fails?
Opposition leader Peter Dutton claims he will hold another referendum on constitutional recognition instead of a Voice to Parliament, if the Coalition is elected to government. The next federal election will take place during or before 2025.
Will there be another referendum?
Ben Abbatangelo, a Gunaikurnai and Wotjobaluk man voting No, told ABC’s Four Corners that a No outcome would be a regenerative moment. "You know, like a bushfire will come through and it'll ravage the entire scene. But you come back to that site six months later … and you see that green bursting through,” he said on the program.Either outcome will change the country and its relationship to its history, even if the Constitution isn’t changed in the process.
Whatever the referendum outcome, the Voice to Parliament referendum will change the country
Make sure you rock up and vote on Saturday, October 14 and write ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ clearly on the ballot paper. In the meantime, learn more about the Voice and this country’s history. Whatever the result, referendum day will be a revealing moment for Australia’s national identity. Madeline Lo-Booth is a journalist who writes on culture and politics.