Why do we need a referendum?
The Voice should be embedded in the Constitution for two reasons:
To constitutionally recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the first inhabitants of this land.
The constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been supported by Prime Ministers of all political persuasions since John Howard in 2007. Recognition is a simple statement of fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were the first people here and form the oldest continuing culture on earth. A Voice to Parliament is a practical way to achieve this recognition in the Australian Constitution.
So that the body can’t be shut down by future governments.
The principle of Indigenous representation will be enshrined in the Constitution. The details of the model will be legislated by Parliament. They might need to change over time, as we as a country change over time.
The need for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory body to government has been supported by both sides of politics for decades. There have been five previous advisory bodies – but all have been defunded or disbanded after a change of government. The Voice would recognise the special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s history, but importantly would also mean that the body couldn’t be shut down by future governments.
Enshrining the principle of the Voice, but not its mechanics, ensures that as we as a country change over time, so too can the Voice. It would be wrong to put all the details in the Constitution - it would mean we couldn't adapt and improve the Voice over time as we do other consultative bodies in Australia. Senior constitutional lawyers like Mark Leibler and Anne Twomey have said that all that is important in the referendum is to know the scope of the power being enshrined, and that the function of that power should be left in the hands of Parliament.
As Senator Patrick Dodson has said:
"The 2023 referendum is the best chance we’ve ever had to create structural change that will deliver better outcomes for First Nations peoples."
"The Voice will be a fearless source of advice and accountability, and it will make a practical difference."