We asked the more than 8600 people who took part in our latest Voice referendum survey why they were voting "yes", "no" or were undecided. A lot of respondents sang from the same song sheet: how can we vote for something that has not been explained?
The results of the survey consistently surfaced 10 questions Australian voters need answered to make an informed decision on the Voice to Parliament referendum on October 14.
With confusing information the norm from both sides of the debate, and difficulties getting a straight answer, we thought a robot may be the go and piped these 10 re-occurring questions into AI apps.
These responses were fact-checked and cross-checked with academic papers and research, then edited into the following 10 questions voters need answered on the Voice to Parliament referendum.
Broadly, the idea is to create a body that would allow Indigenous Australians to have a say in government decisions that affect their communities and rights. Various proposals have been put forward, but there isn't a final consensus on the exact structure or selection process. However, in terms of the members and how they'd be chosen, the referendum working group advising the government listed these design principles:
The Calma-Langton co-design report recommended the national voice have 24 members, with a base model of two members from each state, the Northern Territory, ACT and Torres Strait. A further five members would represent remote areas - from the NT, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales. An additional member would represent Torres Strait Islanders living on the mainland.
Members would serve four-year terms, with half the membership determined every two years. There would be a limit of two consecutive terms for each member. Gender balance would be structurally guaranteed
The model proposed a national voice with two permanent advisory groups - one on youth and one on disability and a small ethics council to advise on probity and governance.
The cost of establishing and operating an Australian Voice to Parliament would depend on several factors, including its size, scope, functions, and administrative requirements. It would include expenses related to setting up its administrative infrastructure, salaries and benefits for staff and representatives, outreach and engagement efforts with Indigenous communities, and ongoing operational costs.
This is apparently separate from the cost of a referendum. Since the 2016 Pre-election economic and fiscal outlook statement, $160 million has been included in the Contingency Reserve for the cost of a referendum. However, the PBO estimated in 2021-22 that due to inflation since 2016, the 2021 cost of a referendum would be $188 million.
Going forward, the exact cost of the Australian Voice to Parliament would likely be determined through negotiations and budgetary processes.
The aim of the Voice to Parliament is generally to provide Indigenous Australians with a formal mechanism for input into government decisions that affect their communities and rights. The specific details of its role, functions, and decision-making power would likely be subject to negotiation and legislative processes.
An Indigenous Voice to Parliament paper released via the Australian National University clarifies that the Voice is advisory only. "The Voice cannot make government or Parliament change its mind or delay a bill from being voted on. It can only make representations. There is no great need to limit what the Voice can speak on when it has no ability to force government to amend its proposals or the Parliament to amend its bills."
So, if it is just a consulting group providing advice, as Prime Minister has stated, why do we need a referendum? The answer to this has generally played out this way: the Voice to Parliament needs to be enshrined in the constitution rather than legislated. Such a change cannot happen without a referendum. Advocates, including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, argue this would give the Voice permanency, insulating it from partisan politics.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a significant document in Australian Indigenous advocacy. It calls for constitutional recognition, a representative Voice to Parliament, and a Makarrata Commission to oversee truth-telling and agreement-making between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The statement emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the history and sovereignty of Indigenous people and seeks to address ongoing disparities and injustices. It was crafted during the First Nations National Constitutional Convention in 2017 and reflects the aspirations of Indigenous communities for a more inclusive and equitable Australia.
The Australian Voice to Parliament, if properly implemented and empowered, has the potential to make a practical difference in addressing issues related to equality and the plight of Indigenous people in several ways:
It's important to note that the effectiveness of the Voice to Parliament will depend on its structure, powers, and the extent to which it is supported and respected by the government and the broader society. The success of the Voice to Parliament in making a practical difference will also require ongoing commitment, collaboration, and a willingness to address the root causes of Indigenous disadvantage.
The concept of the Australian Voice to Parliament and a treaty with Indigenous Australians are related but separate initiatives, and the decision to pursue one over the other or both simultaneously is a matter of political and policy choices. Here's why the Australian Voice to Parliament isn't a treaty:
The issue of constitutional recognition and the establishment of a Voice to Parliament for Indigenous Australians are indeed related, but they are often considered as interconnected aspects of the broader conversation about Indigenous rights and representation in Australia. There are several reasons why these two issues are often discussed together:
The decision to treat constitutional recognition and the Voice to Parliament as related or separate questions is ultimately a matter of political and policy strategy, and it can vary depending on the approach taken by government and Indigenous leaders. There are also arguments both for addressing them separately:
A paper from RMIT FactLab argues, "no, Indigenous Australians do not already have a Voice to Parliament".
There are several key differences between the proposed Voice to Parliament and the NIAA in terms of their independence, power, representativeness and accountability, according to constitutional and legal experts. One of the major differences is that the Voice will be able to advise the parliament as well as the executive government.
The concept of the Australian Voice to Parliament is being developed as a distinct and independent entity with a specific purpose, which could make it different from existing Indigenous agencies and organisations in several ways:
The Australian Human Rights Commission says "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are not mentioned in the Constitution.
"The Constitution still allows racial discrimination - not just against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples but against anyone."
In a 1967 referendum, over 90% of Australian voters agreed to change our Constitution to give the federal parliament the power to make laws in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to allow for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be included in the census, AHRC says.
"But this referendum did not recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as first peoples."
Ensuring that the Australian Voice to Parliament operates in a unified and effective manner is indeed a challenge, given the potential for political debate and differences of opinion. However, there are several strategies and principles that can be employed to promote unity and effectiveness:
It's important to recognize that achieving and maintaining unity within any representative body, especially one as diverse as the Voice to Parliament, can be challenging. However, by implementing these strategies and fostering a culture of collaboration, accountability, and inclusivity, it is possible to enhance the likelihood of the Voice functioning effectively and in a unified manner. Additionally, ongoing dialogue and cooperation among Indigenous communities, government representatives, and other stakeholders will be crucial in ensuring the success of the Voice to Parliament.
The primary focus of the Voice to Parliament is on Indigenous representation, consultation, and advocacy within the Australian political system.
However, issues of compensation for historical injustices and land rights for Indigenous Australians are complex and often subject to separate discussions and agreements and are typically addressed through specific legal frameworks, land rights legislation, native title claims, and, in some cases, negotiated agreements between Indigenous communities and the government or other stakeholders.
While the Voice to Parliament may advocate for Indigenous rights and interests, including land rights and compensation, it would not be the primary mechanism for addressing these issues. Instead, it would play a role in advocating for such matters within the existing legal and political frameworks.
Male 40-59: How can we be expected to vote for something that has not been explained? Who would ever give a government a blank check to do whatever they like? No one.
Male 40-59: There is still not enough information being circulated. We need to know who is going to represent the Voice and how the representatives will be chosen. What the cost will be and how much weight will the Voice have on decisions made in parliament. My understanding is that it is just a consulting group providing advice - according to Anthony Albanese. If that is the case, why do we need the referendum?
Female 40-59: The should have been two questions. One for recognition and one for Voice.
Female 75+: I just cannot find, in all the information, how this change is going to assist promotion of connection, unity and inclusion. It makes me sad that it is so political rather than humanitarian.
Male 40-59: Whilst I am not opposed to the Voice, I'm not sure why we can't agree to a treaty. I think the latter would make a bigger difference and empower Indigenous Australians more than an avenue for expressing their perspectives to parliament.
Female 40-59: I was confronted to see on TV Indigenous people in NT being interviewed about it. They had no idea themselves and thought they might get a new car or house! I fear great racial divisions either way.
Female 18-39: I don't understand why the PM wants us to trust him when he has read one page only. Surely he should be across the details and not signing the country up for huge compensation. I want to know these costs before deciding. Just trust me doesn't work, but I want Indigenous recognition.
Female 60-75: I need to fully understand that this will help Aboriginal people.
Female 18-39: To understand the legality side of things. If we say yes does that stop any future changes like re-writing the constitution. If we say no can we still pursue the treaty.
Female 40-59: I am an Aboriginal woman and I am so disappointed that they tied recognition of Aboriginal people as First Nation people of Australia to a "condition" (Voice to Parliament). I am sure if you surveyed and said the referendum was to recognise us as First Nation people the "yes" vote would be a majority without question. By tying the condition of Voice to Parliament to it - it has confused and segregated everyone. Even most of the mob don't want to say "yes" because they want details about who the voices will be. So many times we have been let down because the government listen to the loudest "squeaky wheel" for guidance and usually these mob have a business or Aboriginal organisation or family who benefit from them pushing their opinion and agendas of "how it should be"! There needs to be a mixture between community, experts, academics etc. that provide that Voice. That is why I am undecided. I have lived in places like Esperance and have seen one person basically dictate the services of Aboriginal people so she gets funding for everything through her organisation and has little accountability to deliver outcomes - is this the Voice that is going to be heard? Reassure me this won't be the case and I will vote "yes".
Male 60-75: I would have thought all Indigenous matters could be addressed by our elected officials without the need to change the constitution. Aren't Indigenous peoples already considered equals or better when it comes to law. I understand they aren't necessarily treated that way, but does it really take an extraordinarily expensive process to change what should already exist in our constitution?
Male 40-59: I don't watch a lot of TV, not have a great social media footprint so perhaps I've missed the messaging but to me the actual purpose is lost. Also closing the gap is generally supported in the country so I don't know why a successive government would remove the Voice if it were not enshrined in the constitution. The purpose of the referendum seems vague to me also.
Male 60-75: How will the Voice be different from the existing National Indigenous Australians Agency which has 1400 staff and is allocated $4.3 billion. Aren't Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people already recognised as Australians in the constitution?
Male 40-59: The direct connection between the Voice and improved outcomes for First Peoples. At the moment it's all platitudes. The "yes" side cant articulate a compelling case to vote "yes". The "no" camp are the usual rag bag of racists, climate deniers, homophobes. But more to the point. The Australian parliament is a dog's breakfast. Question time is embarrassing. Why would I vote for another body to be enshrined in the constitution which in all likelihood will be unable to speak with a single unified voice. It will be as politically polarised as our existing structures.
Female 60-75: I am concerned with the question of compensation. Lidia Thorpe said at the National Press Club the clans want compensation. She also said the clans could send the country broke. That is my concern.
Male 75+: What power will the Voice have to veto mining rights, farm land management rights and environmental issues? Could government legislation be challenged and delayed by high court challenges?
Female 18-39: More detail would be great how the Voice would look like and examples of involvement in law making. I struggle with the idea that a small proportion of people in the country have extra power. I feel that this is not democratic. But I acknowledge the gap and do not have a better solution to close it.
Male 75+: We could not be told by government what was going on. Next paper work was left in coffee shop in Canberra. Which was distributed by news media. Government denied anything in this report. Eventually some has been seen to be correct. The government has had numerous inquiries but has acted on little. They keep throwing money into Aboriginal programs but it appears numerous crafty citizens find ways to milk the system by over pricing on goods and services. I have lived in Indigenous communities e.g. Walgett, Kempsey and Taree and have seen this, not just media hype. I feel through educating Indigenous children is the stepping stone to assist in their strength in community. Not a "yes" which will divide us more.
Female 60-75: I support recognition of First Nations people in the constitution. This should be one question. The second question should be about the Voice. I wonder what will happen if the Voice is not effective but it is enshrined in the constitution. It cannot be disbanded e.g. like ATSIC if it is unsuccessful. It does not seem to have support of all First Nations people and that concerns me.
Male 60-75: How will it help the young woman on the street of Alice Springs with young baby in arms and feeding bottle sitting on footpath.