Voice to Parliament FAQs
What is the Voice referendum?
Later in 2023, all enrolled voters will be asked to cast a vote to amend the Australian Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and ensure they have a Voice on the laws that impact their communities.
If a majority of Australians in a majority of states vote ‘yes’, we can finally implement practical strategies to close the gap and improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
What’s more, by including a Voice in the constitution – the foundational document of Australia – future governments won’t be able to ignore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Australia’s constitution is a high-level statement of principles that outlines the way we are governed.
What exactly is the Voice to Parliament?
The Federal Government is proposing to enshrine a body in the Australian Constitution that would enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to provide advice to the parliament on policies and projects that impact their lives. This body would be known as the Voice to Parliament.
What is the government proposing to amend in the constitution?
The Federal Government has proposed the constitution be amended to include a new chapter titled “Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples”, with the following wording to be added:
In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:
- There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
- 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;
- 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.
Why do we need an Indigenous Voice enshrined in the constitution?
For too long, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have not had their voices heard. Successive governments have made policies that impact their communities without listening to what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people really need to improve their lives.
When governments change, ongoing work ceases. So much money and human potential is wasted and the problems don’t go away. This has happened many times over with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative bodies and projects.
Voting Yes for recognition and Voice means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will have input on laws that impact them. And because the Voice will be in our constitution, future governments will have to listen.
What influence would the Voice have on Parliament and its decision-making abilities?
The government is proposing that the Voice would be an advisory body to the Federal Government. The exact mechanism is still to be decided, and this will be determined by the parliament.
However, there will be an expectation that any matters related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be consulted with the Voice, and this advice would be respected and impactful to the final resolution.
The wording of the consultation principles of this body is as follows:
“Parliament is obliged to consult the National Voice on laws that will overwhelmingly affect Indigenous people, expected to consult the body on laws that significantly affect Indigenous people, and may consult them on any other law.”
I’m concerned that the government has not shared enough detail on the Voice. How can I vote Yes if I don’t know what I’m voting for?
Union members should always be educated and informed. But we know all we need to know to make up our minds about whether there should be recognition and Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples.
The language of the constitution provides the high-level principles that govern Australia, not the operational details of how any part of the federal system works. When Australians established the High Court under section 71 of the constitution, for example, they were not deciding on specifics of the legal operation of the Court. They simply put in the constitution that Australia should have a High Court. After the High Court was established in the constitution, parliament has had the power to determine the specifics of the operation of the Court. But the parliament does not have the power to fundamentally alter or disband the Court.
If we vote Yes, parliament will be called on to make the Voice operational so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a meaningful say.
For more information on the agreed design principles of the Voice to Parliament, click here. These principles will be used in the design of the supporting legislation.
How does the Voice relate to the Uluru Statement from the Heart?
The Voice to Parliament is one of three fundamental changes being called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart: Voice, Treaty, Truth.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a profound call from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for constitutional change and structural reform in their relationship with Australia - a relationship based on fairness, truth, justice and self-determination where Indigenous cultures can flourish, and the Australian nation can reach a fuller potential.
The first reform is the constitutional enshrinement of the Voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart also calls for this to be supported by a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations people (Treaty), and oversee a process of truth-telling (Truth).
Read more about the Uluru Statement from the Heart here.
Is the Voice a ‘third chamber’ in parliament?
Would the Voice cede sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the Australian Government?
No. Several constitutional lawyers, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander constitutional lawyers, as well as past High Court judges, have been consulted on this, and all agree that the Voice would not and cannot cede sovereignty in any way – meaning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have never given up their right to land, sea and air.
To understand what is meant by ‘cede sovereignty’, take a read of this article.
It is also worth noting that over 97% of this vote will be made by non-Indigenous Australians, and they do not have the authority to cede the sovereignty on behalf of any other nations or peoples.
Would the Voice impede the creation of a Treaty between the Australian Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?
No. Treaty is the next step in the process. The Albanese Government has committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full. This includes a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament, forming a Makarrata Commission to work towards Treaty, and a commitment to truth telling regarding Australia’s history and First Nations people.
This process will protect the creation of Treaty – representations to government on matters that overwhelmingly affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (such as Treaty) is the role of the Voice. If there is no Voice to Parliament, then any treaties agreed by the Australian Government could be changed by any subsequent government without consultation.
I’ve heard not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples agree with the Voice.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are not homogenous, and therefore don’t all have one singular voice or opinion.
However, the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the proposed solutions outlined within have been generated through the largest and most considered consultative process that has ever been undertaken with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Is there any international precedent for a First Nations voice?
Yes. Other countries use First Nations bodies effectively, with First Nations representative structures being common in countries with minority Indigenous populations.
Comparable democracies such as New Zealand, Canada, Finland, Sweden and Norway all have First Nations representative structures:
- Canada has the Assembly of First Nations
- New Zealand has the Maori Council which is empowered to act as a consultative and advisory body
- Norway, Sweden and Finland have Saami Parliaments which act as advisory bodies to government.
Why is the QNMU supporting the Voice to Parliament?
As union members, we know how important it is for the people on the ground to have a say in the things that impact them – and we know how badly things go when the people in power don’t listen to us. That’s why having a voice is such a fundamental value of our union.
The QNMU acknowledges that not everyone will agree with the idea of the Voice to Parliament.
However, social justice is and has always been union business, and the Australian union movement is committed to supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The 1967 referendum – where Australians overwhelmingly voted to change the constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as part of the Australian population – was won in partnership with the union movement, and we continue to support this social justice agenda.
Furthermore, the QNMU First Nations Branch has reached a consensus through democratic process to support the Uluru Statement, including the referendum for a Voice to Parliament, a Makarrata Commission to supervise the making of agreements or treaties, and a process to oversee truth telling for our nation. Delegates at Annual Conference endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2020, and it was then ratified by Council.
The QNMU has a long, proud history of fighting for nursing and midwifery voices in health care policy and legislation, and all matters that impact nurses and midwives (including social justice issues that overwhelmingly impact women and health care workers). We look forward to supporting our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who are seeking the same voice on matters that impact them.