When the best argument the No campaign can come up with is “if you don’t know, vote no”, it’s clear they know the more Australians learn about the Voice, the more likely they are to embrace it.
And as the referendum date approaches and people turn their minds to how they are going to vote, I am confident that Australians will find that there are many reasons to say yes to the Voice.
As the Liberal MP Julian Leeser has said “The No case wants to debate every issue imaginable” except the issue which is actually on the ballot paper.
What is actually on the ballot paper is the addition of three very simple, straightforward sentences to the Constitution. Those sentences would in essence say that, in recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of Australia:
There is nothing “risky” about this proposal. If we vote yes Australians, and particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, will be better off.
Because we know that when governments listen to people, we get better outcomes and use funding more effectively.
That is what the Voice is about – listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so we get better outcomes.
Because we all know that the current approach is not working. The real risk in this referendum is a no vote and more of the same.
There is an 8-year gap in life expectancy.
The suicide rate for Indigenous Australians is twice that of non-Indigenous Australians.
Rates of disease and infant mortality are higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The gap remains stubbornly wide. We can’t accept that this is the best we can do.
In 2015 it was a Liberal Prime Minister and a Labor Opposition Leader established the Referendum Council to understand how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be recognised in the Constitution.
After a comprehensive process of consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people right across Australia, the call was made at Uluru in 2017 at the national convention: there should be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. This is how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want to be recognised in the Constitution.
After years of failed programs and policies, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are not seeking a symbolic form of constitutional recognition. Symbolic language will not do anything to turn things around – what is needed is a practical form of constitutional recognition.
If we vote Yes to the Voice, we can make a difference.
The Voice will be a committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who will give advice to the Parliament and Government on issues affecting their communities.
It will include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from across the country, with representatives from the regions and remote communities.
The Voice will improve the way we develop laws and policies relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because it will give local communities across Australia a voice TO Canberra.
The Voice will have no power to prevent, delay or veto laws of the Parliament or decisions of the Government. The Parliament and the Government will retain decision-making power over all laws and policies.
But laws and policies relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be improved if they are informed by the voices of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The Coalition recognise a Voice would work - they say they want to legislate one. By putting it in the constitution we’re not only recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the way they’ve asked to be recognised - we are ensuring the Voice has stability and can withstand the whims of political cycles to give meaningful, long-lasting advice.
Voting Yes is a simple but powerful act we can all do to help close the gap in health, in housing, in education, in every area where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders don’t enjoy the same quality of life as every other Australian.
Voting yes will make a practical difference, and make this country better for all of us.
The Voice can do no harm – only good for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and for the country more broadly.
This Opinion Piece first appeared in the Australian Financial Review, Wednesday, 30 August 2023.