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  • peterjhyland

The Voice - Just vote "YES"

Updated: May 13, 2023


The question to be put to the Australian people at the 2023 referendum will be:

“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?”


The proposed law that Australians are being asked to approve at the referendum would insert a new section into the Constitution:

"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:

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.”


Background

By all measures, the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians has deteriorated progressively for 250 years. Beginning as a British penal experiment, colonisation of "New Holland"disrupted a proud ancient culture and failed to recognise and respect the knowledge and practices that sustained indigenous society, in a fragile symbiosis with the land, for 60 millenia.

Colonial, Federal, State and Local governments treated Indigenous Australians and the natural environment as expendable commodities, by equating "progress" with the value of produce for export, first to the Homeland (remember, all Australians remained British Citizens until 1948) and subsequently, to the highest bidder.


For Indigenous Australians, equality under the law (has and still) advances slowly:

1962: Federal right to vote for Aboriginals

1967: Aboriginals included in Commonwealth Census

1972: Self-determination adopted as policy for Indigenous people,

1975: First land returned to native title, Racial Discrimination Act.

1976 - 1993: Aboriginal Land Rights Acts (States) to Native Title Act (Federal),

1997: Stolen Generations Report, PM Howard makes personal, not Government, apology.

1998: Native Title Amendment Act (seen by many to reduce native title rights)

1999: Howard Government's Preamble Referendum ("honouring Aborigines [sic] and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation’s first people, for their deep kinship with their lands and for their ancient and continuing cultures which enrich the life of our country") fails. It offered only symbolic recognition, lacked wide consultation and failed to gain support of a majority of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians - a clear lesson for future referendums.

2007: Howard Government's Northern Territory "Intervention"

2008: PM Rudd 'Sorry' apology to the Stolen Generations.

2008: Yolngu and Bininj Leaders "Statement of Intent" to PM

2010: PM Gillard plans to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution; The Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is established.

2023: PM Albanese election promise of Constitutional Recognition in first term of Government


Opposition

Opponents of the Voice claim that there's insufficient detail to decide, that it will subvert Australian Democracy by offering Indigenous Australians "two votes", that it constitutes a "Third Chamber" of Parliament, that it will result in a flood of (unspecified) litigation to the High Court, that it should advise Parliament but not Executive Government; that it should Regional, not Federal and that it's scope is too broadly defined.

These claims are demonstrably false or misleading.

Self-determination of Indigenous Australians has been Government policy for half a century. The Voice provides a meaningful avenue to satisfying this Human Right.

The Voice is constituted as an "advisory" instrument: it remains the Parliament & Executive Government's responsibility to prepare and legislate.

Various models for the Voice have already been developed, but agreement upon a "fully detailed" (i.e. final) model for the Voice is planned to occur after the Referendum. If the proposed law is approved at the referendum, there will be a process with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the Parliament, and the broader public to settle the Voice design. Legislation to establish the Voice will then go through standard parliamentary processes to ensure adequate scrutiny by elected representatives in both houses of Parliament.

In reality, the proposed Voice is already the outcome of one of the longest and most consultative processes in memory. This process has been exhaustively documented. It is disingenuous of anyone involved to claim otherwise.


Design Principles

The following principles were developed by the First Nations Referendum Working Group and endorsed by the Australian Government.

The Voice will give independent advice to the Parliament and Government

The Voice will be chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people based on the wishes of local communities

The Voice will be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, gender balanced and include youth

The Voice will be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful and culturally informed

The Voice will be accountable and transparent

The Voice will work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures

The Voice will not have a program delivery function

The Voice will not have a veto power.


Conclusion

The only reasonable response is "YES".

To support the status quo is to prolong injustices since Colonisation of Australia.

Vote "Yes" to give Indigenous Australians the chance to be heard.


Further Reading

Anybody seeking sufficient information should check following sources.


The Uluru Statement

The Uluru Statement home page is www.ulurustatement.org a beautifully put together site that explains the full history of the community consultation that has already taken place, includes full details of what's proposed, a comprehensive history of the 12 Regional Dialogues and downloadable copies of the 10 reports to Government in a process that dates back to 2008, when Yolngu and Bininj Leaders expressed their desire for constitutional protection for traditional land and cultural rights, in the form of a Statement of Intent to Prime Minister - the same year Kevin Rudd made formal apology to Indigenous Australia.


NDIA / NIAA

The National Indigenous Australians Agency website has a succinct summary of the proposed legislation and links to relevant documentation.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) is leading preparation for the referendum through First Nations engagement, coordination across the Australian Public Service and supporting government processes.


Yes Case Support Groups in the Community

The Albanese Government has drafted the proposed Referendum Question, but reluctant to lead the campaign, or to fund Yes and No cases. Instead (with a recent electoral mandate to legislate) it will fund a public education campaign that promotes the referendum itself (an approach that has been criticised as partisan). The Government will relying on community-funded groups, especially those in the Indigenous Community, to lead the public discussion. This may be argued to be consistent with a philosophy of empowering Indigenous Australians (bottom-up), rather than perpetuating of paternalistic (top-down) models of leadership.

Created in 2017, the Uluru Dialogue is a collective of academics and lawyers based at the University of New South Wales.

Funded by Australia’s largest philanthropic organisation, the Paul Ramsay Foundation, Yes23 is supported by Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition (AICR) - co-chair Rachael Perkins.

Together, Yes is a campaign by the Victorian Women’s Trust as Trustee of the Dugdale Trust for Women & Girls a proudly independent feminist organisation established in 1985, to support women, girls and gender diverse people.

Uphold and Recognise was founded in 2015 by Damien Freeman, a lawyer at the PM Glynn Institute at the Australian Catholic University, and Julian Leeser, who is now the Coalition spokesperson on Indigenous Australians.

From the Heart

Launched in 2020, From the Heart operates under the auspices of the Cape York Institute, Noel Pearson’s thinktank in north Queensland. (No website available).

The Parliamentary Friends of the Uluru Statement.

Launched on 13 February, this “non-partisan forum” is co-chaired by Labor’s Gordon Reid, Liberal Bridget Archer and independent Allegra Spender. (No website available).

Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition

Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition (AICR) is a powerhouse organisation of prominent Australians co-chaired by the lawyer and director of the Business Council of Australia, Danny Gilbert, and Arrernte-Kalkadoon film-maker Rachel Perkins. (No website available).



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