Select Page

The Voice Debate | Educational Series Article Two: Why a Referendum?

The Voice Debate Educational Series: Why a Referendum?

In our previous article we explained the Voice to Parliament, what it is and how it would be structured. In the second article of our series, we explore the Referendum.

Why a referendum?

To get a Voice to Parliament, the Constitution must be changed, and to do this, voters must approve of it being amended through a referendum. The vote must be held between two and six months after the legislation was passed. Prime Minister Albanese is widely expected to choose October.

What will the referendum question be?

The referendum question, which was chosen after detailed consultation with the Referendum Working Group, asks Australians:

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?

If the referendum is successful, the Voice will be enshrined in the Constitution as a new constitutional body that cannot be overturned.

Where will the Voice appear in the Constitution and what will it say?

The wording in the Constitution will be contained in a new chapter:

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.

What happens next if the referendum passes?

The Voice won’t exist until legislation is enacted.

Step 1: there will be a consultation process with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the public to design the Voice.

Step 2: a bill will then be developed to establish the Voice.

Step 3: the bill would be introduced to federal parliament where it may be improved upon.

Step 4: once parliament approves the legislation to establish the Voice, it comes into effect and work will begin on setting up the Voice.

If the referendum fails, then the Constitution will remain unchanged.

How does a referendum work?

The referendum needs a double majority to pass, which means most Australian voters need to support the proposed change, and a majority of voters in a majority of Australia’s six states need to support the change.

 The ACT and Northern Territory people’s votes will count towards the national total, but not the state count.

The Australian Electoral Commission will send every enrolled household a booklet containing details of the proposed constitutional change and a summary of the arguments for and against a Voice to Parliament.

You can access the pamphlets containing the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ arguments here: https://www.aec.gov.au/referendums/pamphlet.htm

The ‘yes’ summary will be signed off by members of parliament who voted for the bill, and the ‘no’ summary will be signed off by members who voted against it.

All Australians aged 18 and older must vote in the referendum. Similar to a federal election, the referendum will be held on a Saturday and people will vote at polling places. Postal votes will be allowed and there will be pre-polling booths available.

If you are enrolled to vote in elections, you are enrolled to vote in the referendum. You do not need to enrol again.

Sources and further information:

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-06-20/heres-what-comes-next-in-the-voice-to-parliament-referendum/102498234

Discover more Advocacy Resources and updates from IAP2 Australasia.

Bookmark the IAP2A The Indigenous Voice page, to stay updated on the latest resources.