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Referendum on a Voice: ensuring it passes

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The new Federal Government has committed to holding a referendum to enshrine a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution - now, to ensure it passes

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese started his victory speech on May 22 by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land and promising to hold a referendum on the Uluru Statement from the Heart by 2024.

On behalf of the Australian Labor Party,
 I commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

The commitment came almost five years to the day that 250 Indigenous leaders issued the Uluru Statement from the Heart - May 26, 2017 - calling for:

  • the establishment of a ‘First Nations Voice’ (Voice) to federal Parliament, enshrined in the Constitution
  • a ‘Makarrata Commission’ to oversee the process of treaty-making and ‘truth-telling’ around the Indigenous experience.

The Voice would create a formal framework for advice from First Nations peoples on policy matters.

Creating a Voice involves forming a national and regional body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to provide non-binding advice to the Federal Parliament and the Government on policy matters that affect First Nations peoples.

This brings Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples into the law-making process, enabling them to give practical advice on policies and laws that impact on their lives.

Having the Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution is important. This ensures that it is not open to the elected government of the day to abolish the body (without a referendum). Parliament will establish details such as the functions, powers and procedures of the Voice.

It is not a “third chamber” of Parliament.

Constitutional enshrinement removes risk of change

Recognising the Voice in the Constitution is a critical acknowledgement of First Nations peoples’ occupation and custodianship of the land for time immemorial and would provide legitimacy and protection from future governments disbanding the body.

Click here to learn more about the Voice.

Only a referendum can add the Voice to the Constitution

Referendums carry a high bar and have historically low rates of success.

The double majority requirement is a significant factor contributing to the difficulty in winning a referendum. In five instances a national vote in favour of change was achieved without winning a a majority of states and territories resulting in no change.

Yet the biggest ever majority in a referendum related to the rights of Indigenous people: the proposal to amend the races power and remove a section excluding Indigenous people from the census. Almost 90% of voters were in favour. The victory was on May 27, 1967. A successful referendum on the Voice would bring legitimacy by virtue of a majority of Australians in a majority of states and territories backing the change.

To get an affirmative vote from the Australian people on a referendum proposal is one of the labours of Hercules.” Former Prime Minister, Robert Menzies

King & Wood Mallesons backs a Voice

KWM has consistently expressed strong support for a constitutionally enshrined Voice and the formal campaigns driving it. KWM was one of 18 leading law firms in Australia which issued a joint statement in support.

Our submission to the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process finalised in 2021 is here.

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