Voice isn't about heritage laws, land use or parking tickets

There has been a lot of noise from the No campaign in recent weeks about what the now shelved West Australian Government’s heritage laws mean for the Voice.

The truth is that the two things have nothing to do with each other but as Liberal MP Julian Leeser has noted, the “The No case wants to debate every issue imaginable” except the issue which is actually on the ballot paper.

Let’s clear a few things up.

For 122 years our Constitution has not recognised the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have lived on and cared for this land since time immemorial.

Together, Australians can fix that by voting in favour of a simple addition to the Constitution at a referendum later this year. The proposed addition says:

  • In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of this land, there shall be a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
  • The Voice may advise the Parliament and the Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • And finally, it will be up to the democratically-elected Parliament to make laws about precisely what the Voice looks like and how the Voice is to operate – in the same way as the Parliament makes laws about a range of other bodies and subject matters.

That’s it. That is what Australians will be voting on. And importantly, this is how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want to be recognised in the Constitution.

You’ll notice the proposed amendment does not say anything about heritage laws, land use, or parking tickets.

Like other parts of the Constitution, the proposed addition would set out some key principles – and then hand it over to the democratically elected Parliament.

The same is true of elections. The Constitution doesn’t say anything about compulsory voting, where polling booths go or how votes will be counted.  The Constitution sets out some high-level principles, including that Australia will have elections – but then leaves it to the Parliament to write the laws about how those elections are to be conducted.

This is how our Constitution has always worked.

The Voice is about advice. It will be a committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who will advise the Parliament and the Government on matters that affect them and their community.

The Voice won’t solve every problem overnight – but it will lead to better practical outcomes in areas like health, education, housing and employment.

Putting the Voice in the Constitution gives it enduring status, stability and independence, now and into the future.

This means the Voice can give frank advice, without getting caught up in short-term politics.

Legal experts have made it clear that the Voice will not have the power to prevent, delay or veto laws or decisions. The Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth has said that “the proposed amendment is not only compatible with the system of representative and responsible government established under the Constitution, but it enhances that system”.

This isn’t about more bureaucracy, it’s the opposite.

 A Voice will help us listen to locals and direct funding to where it will be most effective, where it makes a difference, and where it achieves real outcomes in health, in education, in living standards.

The No campaign does not want to talk about any of this because they know if they actually talk honesty about what the Voice is about, they will lose. So, instead they try to create fear and confusion.

But worse, the No campaign is offering no solutions to the problems affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which successive governments have tried but failed to address with the best of intentions.

The only thing the No campaign is offering is more of the same. They want nothing to change, when we know more of the same is not good enough.

The Voice can do no harm – only good for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and for the country more broadly.

All we need to do is vote Yes.

This piece was published in The West Australian on 21 August 2023.