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From the Editors

The Voice to Parliament explained

Parliament house, woman waving Aboriginal flag
AAP/Mick Tsikas, Shutterstock, The Conversation

Now we finally have a date for the Voice to Parliament referendum, it’s a good time to return to the terrific work our academic experts have done to explain the Voice to Parliament – as well as debunking some of the misinformation and disinformation we’ve seen so far.

Many of the questions we have addressed came from readers who took part in our Voice reader survey last year. In seeking answers, we’ve drawn from the nation’s preeminent constitutional experts, and prioritised First Nations perspectives.

The Australian constitution and the 220-plus page report of the co-design proposed Voice are not very accessible for those of us who don’t speak fluent policy. This is why the work we do at The Conversation is vital. Often it’s not only academic findings we need to translate for readers, but the very documents and policies that govern our lives.

So to prepare for the referendum, here are some of our articles addressing frequently asked questions. They will hopefully assist in making sure we’re as informed as possible when it’s our turn at the ballot box.

Helpful general information:

Australians will vote in a referendum on October 14. What do you need to know?

Pre-eminent constitutional scholar Anne Twomey reminds us of the referendum basics – what will it say on the ballot paper? What’s the proposed addition to the Constitution? How do I make my vote count?

10 questions about the Voice to Parliament - answered by the experts

Three non-Indigenous and Indigenous academics provide answers to ten key questions arising in the Voice debate, where the answers are often confused and distorted by misinformation.

The Voice: what is it, where did it come from, and what can it achieve?

We now know the wording of the Voice referendum and proposed constitutional amendment. But what may have been forgotten is how we got here in the first place – and why it matters.

What can history teach us to ensure a successful referendum for A First Nations Voice to parliament?

How much detail should referendum proposals contain? And is there a risk that proposals that are too detailed, or too vague, can end up being rejected by voters?

How we can avoid political misinformation in the lead-up to the Voice referendum

As the referendum date approaches, campaigns may use misinformation to spark emotions in people to get them to vote a certain way. Here are some ways to spot dishonest claims and misinformation.

Will multicultural Australians support the Voice? The success of the referendum may hinge on it

Because there are such a large number of multicultural groups in Australia, how they choose to vote in the upcoming referendum will be significant. This article explores how factors such as race, religion, and experience with racial interactions may inform how these demographics could vote.

7 rules for a respectful and worthwhile Voice referendum

We’re out of practice in how to conduct ourselves in a referendum. How can we make sure our discussions with friends and family are respectful? How can we find reliable sources to ensure we make an informed choice? These seven rules may help.

Constitutional and legal explainers

Why can’t we just establish the Voice to Parliament through legislation? A constitutional law expert explains

Legislation is an unsatisfactory way to institute a Voice to Parliament because, among other reasons, it would make the body insecure and vulnerable to the whims of different governments.

With 11 Indigenous politicians in parliament, why does Australia need the Voice?

Even though there is strong Indigenous representation in parliament, this does not guarantee Indigenous communities a say in laws and policies made on their behalf.

A Voice to Parliament will not give ‘special treatment’ to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Here’s why

There have been concerns voiced about the First Nations Voice to Parliament having special powers, such as veto power. This will not be the case.

What happens if the government goes against the advice of the Voice to Parliament?

If the Voice to Parliament is implemented, what could their advisory role look like, and how will the government determine what advice they follow, and what happens if they don’t?

Why is it legal to tell lies during the Voice referendum campaign?

There has been a lot of misinformation and disinformation circulating in the lead-up to the referendum, with Linda Burney calling some of it out as “post-truth politics”. However, it’s technically not illegal for campaigns to be dishonest in their messaging, why is this?

How does the Liberal Party’s Voice policy stack up against the proposed referendum?

This article explores the similarities and differences between the Liberal and Labour Parties’ positions on the Voice to Parliament, and the efficacy of their proposed designs.

Solicitor-general confirms Voice model is legally sound, will not ‘fetter or impede’ parliament

Australia’s solicitor-general Stephen Donaghue provided the federal government with legal advice on the Voice to Parliament. This article provides a summary of Donaghue’s findings stating the Voice will be legally sound.

No, the Voice proposal will not be ‘legally risky’. This misunderstands how constitutions work

Concerns have been raised about enshrining a Voice in the Constitution, with the “no” campaign arguing it would be “legally risky”. This article explains why this misunderstands the role of constitutions.

No, the Voice to Parliament would not force people to give up their private land

Some Voice opponents are claiming the new advisory body could lead to the conversion of private land title to native title. But this is not how native title law works.

Explainer: what is executive government and what does it have to do with the Voice to Parliament?

A Voice to Parliament would advise parliament and the executive government on issues that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This is who is included in “executive government”.

First Nations perspectives

The Liberal Party’s ‘no’ position on Voice signals it’s primarily interested in speaking to a nation that no longer exists

Sana Nakata writes that the Liberal Party’s preference for the Voice to be purely symbolic is speaking to so-called “Howard’s Australia”, which just isn’t who we are anymore.

For a lot of First Nations peoples, debates around the Voice to Parliament are not about a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’

Although there are definitive “yes” and “no” campaigns, the arguments for and against the Voice do not just fall into these categories. Kelly Menzel explores the cultural and historical complexities behind many First Nations peoples’ apprehension or uncertainty around the proposed Voice.

Our research has shown Indigenous peoples’ needs cannot be understood and met, without Indigenous voices

This article explores the benefits of diverse collaboration with political discourse and policy development. When policies are informed by one group’s experiences and worldview there is the risk of racial biases. Failure to incorporate Indigenous perspectives has contributed to decades of misinformed, ineffective policy such as the Northern Territory Intervention.

Why a First Nations Voice should come before Treaty

A leading argument against the Voice to Parliament is that Treaty should come first. However, Pat Anderson and Paul Komesaroff write of the limitations of a Treaty alone, and how the Voice to Parliament can create a framework for the country to move forward in processes such as these.

People in the Kimberley have spent decades asking for basics like water and homes. Will the Voice make their calls more compelling?

One crucial question about the Voice to Parliament is how it will ensure voices from regional and remote communities, such as those in the Kimberley, are truly heard in Canberra.

‘Why didn’t we know?’ is no excuse. Non-Indigenous Australians must listen to the difficult historical truths told by First Nations people

In the Uluru Statement, alongside “Treaty” and “Voice”, there is also a call for “Truth”. How can non-Indigenous people in Australia facilitate truth-telling about the painful history of colonisation?

The Voice alone won’t solve the issues facing Indigenous people. Everyone has to do that work

Oppressed and marginalised people are often the ones being asked how to address racism, instead of the people who perpetuate it. There is a real danger of the Voice to Parliament being expected to do the same thing. How can non-Indigenous people “do the work” without placing the onus on the people who are suffering from racism?

There are two sides to the ‘no’ campaign on the Voice. Who are they and why are they opposed to it?

There are two sides to the “no” camp and they are very different. Bronwyn Carlson explains what the two sides are arguing and the different approaches they’ve taken when it comes to style and tone.

Voice, Treaty, Truth explainers

Since the Uluru statement was declared in 2017 we have heard calls from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders for “Voice, Treaty and Truth”. Our experts explained each stage of this process.

1. The Voice: what is it, where did it come from, and what can it achieve?

2. What actually is a treaty? What could it mean for Indigenous people?

3. First Nations people have made a plea for ‘truth-telling’. By reckoning with its past, Australia can finally help improve our future

How did we get here?

We commissioned a series of experts to have a look at the turning points and significant moments in the Indigenous rights movement that brought us here.

In the 1800s, colonisers attempted to listen to First Nations people. It didn’t stop the massacres

This article details how the establishment of the office of the Protector of Aboriginal People informed policies that led to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people not being included in the Australian Constitution of 1901.

The 1881 Maloga petition: a call for self-determination and a key moment on the path to the Voice

In Victoria, large groups of First Nations people were placed onto missions for protection due to a lawless frontier. But this was at the cost of their land, language, lore, kinship structures and liveable conditions. This led to the Maloga mission petition of 1881. The petition set many people – including Yorta Yorta man William Cooper – on a career of activism.

Long before the Voice vote, the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association called for parliamentary representation

Worimi historian John Maynard explores how Aboriginal activists first called for a voice to parliament during the 1920s. This call came from the first Aboriginal political organisation, the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association, led by John’s grandfather Fred Maynard.

90 years ago, Yorta Yorta leader William Cooper petitioned the king for Aboriginal representation in parliament

Yorta Yorta leader William Cooper set about petitioning the British king, George V with the intention of Aboriginal people being represented in the Commonwealth parliament. Cooper was pursuing this so Australia’s lawmakers could be informed of the views of Aboriginal people.

The 1967 referendum was the most successful in Australia’s history. But what it can tell us about 2023 is complicated

The 1967 referendum was considered a success due to the 90.77% of Australians endorsing two constitutional amendments. Commentators credit the success of this referendum to unanimity, as there wasn’t a “no” campaign in 1967. However, as Jon Piccini explores, the answer is more complicated than that.

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