March 24, 2023

Why do we need an Indigenous Voice to Parliament?

Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Voice

In 2023, Australians will have their say in a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. It is to comprise Indigenous Australians and will have the power to “make representations to Parliament and the Executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples”.

The proposal for the Voice to Parliament was formally announced in 2017 in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, delivered by the First Nations National Constitutional Convention which met at Uluru. The concept was rejected by the Turnbull government over concerns that it would be “seen as third chamber of parliament”, and also did not receive the support of the Labor Opposition. After Scott Morrison became prime minister of Australia in August 2018, the Morrison Government proposed the “Indigenous voice to government” in October 2019, which would introduce a body via legislation, without changing the Constitution. The process by which the channel would be established was known as the Indigenous voice co-design process. The Senior Advisory Group was set up under Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt.

With a change of government on 23 May 2022, new prime minister Anthony Albanese promised in his victory speech that a referendum to decide the Indigenous Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution would be held within his term of office. In July 2022 he outlined further plans regarding the referendum, and proposed that the advisory group be named the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. The new process is being overseen by Labor’s Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney. Whilst the Peter Dutton led Opposition Liberal Party has thus far reserved its position on the referendum pending further details from the Labor Government on the nature of the proposed Voice, their junior Coalition partner, the Nationals have declared themselves against the proposal, with Aboriginal Senator for the Northern Territory Jacinta Price arguing that it will enshrine a racially divisive bureaucracy into the Constitution, that cannot be dismantled.

The Voice will be an independent, representative advisory body for First Nations people. It will provide a permanent means to advise the Australian Parliament and Government on the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on matters that affect them.

The Voice is a body that will:

  • Provide independent advice to Parliament and Government
  • Be chosen by First Nations people based on the wishes of local communities
  • Be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • Be empowering, community led, inclusive, respectful, culturally informed and gender balanced, and include youth
  • Be accountable and transparent Work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures

The Voice will not have a program delivery function, or a veto power. The structure and role of the Voice would be decided by Parliament through legislation, with members to be chosen by First Nations people. The referendum is part of the Government’s commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.