The upcoming referendum to alter the Australian Constitution to introduce a First Nations Voice to Parliament is an important moment in the history of our country. While there is widespread agreement about some of the issues raised by it, there is disagreement and uncertainty about many others. This book is intended as a fair and trustworthy resource summarising the key arguments in order to help voters make up their minds.
The areas of agreement include the fact that First Nations People have been subjected to major injustices since the advent of European colonisation, including the confiscation of land, removal of children, destruction of culture and denial of basic democratic rights. As a result, Indigenous people continue to experience major disparities in health and economic and educational opportunities. Most people in Australia – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – agree that action needs to be taken to right these wrongs. There is also wide consensus from all sides of the political spectrum that this should involve some form of constitutional recognition.
In response to these common concerns, a lengthy process of consultation and reflection has occurred, stimulating much public discussion. A major turning point occurred in 2017 with the publication of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which proposed the establishment of a First Nations Voice to Parliament enabled by an amendment to the Australian Constitution. Following the election of the Labor government in May 2022, preparations were initiated for the referendum, which is now to be held in the second half of 2023.
In the lead-up, many questions have been asked and careful scrutiny of the referendum’s significance and possible effects has begun. A variety of views have been expressed, many well-informed and helpful, others less so. Questions have been raised about how the Voice might be implemented practically, about the significance of calls for more detail, and about whether the Voice could undermine the power of the parliament or undermine Indigenous sovereignty and whether it will lead to legal challenges.
The referendum is an important moment for Australian society, and voters need to reflect carefully on the issues so that they can come to decisions with which they feel comfortable. The decisions, however, are not purely personal, because the outcome will have widespread and long-lasting implications for all of us, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. This is a historic opportunity to debate and collectively reflect on who we are as a society and what we want to be as a nation.
The objective of this book is to help facilitate such a debate. It takes no position on the substantive issues at stake, apart from a commitment to their importance. It provides access to the key facts and arguments of the discussion: summaries of historical facts, legal concerns, cultural implications, and practical matters; a selection of key articles from newspapers, books, journals and social media; and synopses, excerpts and links for readers to continue their own research. Because many Australians belong to religious, educational, cultural, sporting and similar groups, it also includes a compendium of links to statements about the Voice by such organisations.
The authors and editors are committed to an honest, respectful debate based on genuine knowledge and careful review of the facts and arguments. We are confident that if these conditions are met, the final decision made by the Australian people will be a reliable one.
The book is offered free in web-based and PDF formats and will be progressively updated as further information and arguments appear. The web version is available at: www.voicetoparliament.info.
The book commences with three articles providing overviews of the historical, international, legal and social contexts of the referendum. It then lists some of the key questions that have been raised in the public debate and provides evidence-based responses to them, along with a balanced selection of excerpts from, summaries of, and links to further resources from all sides of the debate.
This book can be read through from beginning to end or explored via links in the Table of Contents, and the text search function can be used to locate occurrences of particular words or phrases. The online version can be searched using a ChatGPT-enhanced free text discussion in which readers can pose questions to which responses will be provided from the expanded and updated text.
We acknowledge the assistance we have received in the preparation of this work, which has required intense effort by many people working with a very short time frame. We especially acknowledge the contributions of Victoria Baldwin and Ian Robertson.
This book is intended to contribute to a deep conversation involving members of the Australian community about issues of fundamental and lasting significance for all of us. In the spirit of that conversation, comments and feedback from readers will be welcomed. Please feel free to direct them to www.palaver.com/contact.