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The Voice Debate | Educational Series Article Four: The Cases For and Against the Voice to Parliament

The Cases For and Against the Voice to Parliament

Arguments for and against a Voice to Parliament have developed over time but they have now been formalised in the official Yes/No referendum pamphlet that has been sent out to every household in Australia. These are not the only arguments raised, but they are the only ones that will be officially distributed. They were provided by the majority of federal members of parliament and senators who voted for or against the proposed law to alter the Constitution. Concerns have been raised that the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is only able to publish the arguments as they were submitted – without fact-checking the claims.

Who’s behind the campaigns?

There are several campaign groups representing each side of the debate. The ‘Yes’ campaign has a collection of campaign groups that are working towards the same outcome: Uphold and Recognise follows a centre-right approach and includes former Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt as a board member. The Uluru Dialogue is a collective, includes creators of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and is chaired by Megan Davis and Pat Anderson. From the Heart operates under Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute, while Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition, comprising a group of prominent Australians, runs the ‘Yes23’ campaign. Parliamentary friends of the Uluru Statement is a non-partisan group co-chaired by Labor’s Gordon Reid, Liberal Bridget Archer and Independent Allegra Spender.

The ‘No’ campaign groups are more diverse and work towards different outcomes. They include Australians for Unity, led by Warren Mundine and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price. This is a merger of two key former campaigns: Recognise a Better Way, led by Mundine, and Fair Australia, led by Price under the auspices of Advance. Advance (formerly Advance Australia), is a conservative lobby group.

What are the main arguments for and against the Voice?

Put simply, ‘Yes’ supporters say the Voice will give First Nations people a say on policies that affect them. ‘No’ supporters argue that the Voice either goes too far or not far enough. An article on NITV Radio’s website summarises the main argument points to date:

The ‘Yes’ arguments:

  • The Voice was recommended after a years-long engagement with Indigenous communities across Australia.
  • Indigenous people should have a say in policies that affect them.
  • If the government listens to Indigenous people as it creates policies about them, the policies will be better.
  • It will be permanent, and future governments won’t be able to remove it.
  • Ensuring the Voice can speak to ‘executive government’ means its central role is entrenched, regardless of future governments.
  • It will be gender equal and include youth members, meaning more voices from Indigenous communities will be heard.
  • It has been carefully devised and given the green light by legal experts.
  • Fixed terms mean representatives will always be accountable.
  • The Voice would be a good mechanism through which to negotiate Truth and Treaty processes with the Commonwealth.
  • Parliament, and by extension the Australian people, would still hold the ultimate say over what becomes law.

 The ‘No’ arguments:

  • It’s symbolic; fixing systemic issues facing Indigenous communities would require a body with actual power.
  • Governments can ignore its advice if they don’t like it.
  • The Voice adds race to the constitution.
  • Because the Voice will be designed by parliament, future governments could change or sideline it.
  • Indigenous people already have a voice via an unprecedented level of Indigenous representation in parliament.
  • Truth and Treaty should come before the Voice.

What does the ‘Yes’ pamphlet say?

Labor, the Greens, pro-Voice Liberal MPs and independents were consulted on the pamphlet’s contents. It outlines three main reasons to vote for the Voice:

  • Recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution and paying respect to 65,000 years of culture and tradition.
  • Listening to Indigenous people’s advice on matters that impact them, to improve government decision-making.
  • Better results in Indigenous health, education, employment, and housing.

The ‘Yes’ pamphlet has a positive message:

‘Vote Yes for a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and all Australians. Vote Yes for unity, hope, and to make a positive difference … It’s a change only you can make happen.’

What does the ‘No’ pamphlet say?

Not all ‘No’ campaign groups were consulted on the pamphlet. Those left out include Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe and One Nation’s leader Pauline Hanson. The ‘No’ pamphlet argues that the Voice would be:

  • risky, because ‘no issue is beyond its reach’.
  • unknown, because ‘no details have been provided’.
  • divisive, because it would enshrine a Voice for only one group of Australians.
  • permanent, because it could not be revoked.

Some of these arguments contain potential misinformation, such as the claim that the Voice is legally risky – legal experts have disproved this. The assertion that there is a lack of detail about how the Voice will work has also been addressed by academics and the government.

Fact checking

There are concerns about the fact that there is no formal requirement that the arguments in the pamphlet be based on fact. The AEC had to publish the pamphlets as they were submitted. However, there are several organisations who have fact checked the claims in the pamphlet:

SBS gave the pamphlet to RMIT FactCheck to examine.

The ABC and The Guardian have also fact checked the pamphlet essays.

What if the referendum fails?

The approaches of the two camps are distilled in these two appeals – one inherently backward looking and pessimistic, the other optimistic and containing a vision for the nation. The ‘No’ campaign says, ‘If you don’t know, vote no’. For the ‘Yes’ campaign, Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney says, ‘We have everything to gain and nothing to lose by supporting the Voice’.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has warned no other forms of Indigenous recognition will be on the table if the Voice referendum fails, insisting that failure ‘will be a clear sign that it doesn’t have the support of the Australian people.’

First Nations advocate Noel Pearson has said that a rejection of the Voice to Parliament would represent a failure of a whole generation of Indigenous leadership and that it would be up to a new generation to chart a different way forward.

A rejection of the Voice would also represent the failure of the Australian people to embrace a generous offer from First Nations Australians and an act of unity that would bring all Australians together.

Every voter should consider the question of ‘If not now, when?’ and the far-reaching implications of a failure to take this opportunity to make a positive difference to the lives of First Nations Australians.

Sources and further information:

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