Australians now know what question they will likely be asked to vote on in this year’s Voice to Parliament referendum.
An emotional Prime Minister used a media conference to announce the proposed question on Thursday (23 March), following the unanimous passage in the Senate the evening before of the machinery bill stipulating how the referendum will work.
Through a breaking voice, Anthony Albanese stressed the simplicity of the question.
It will read:
A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
Do you approve this proposed alteration?
“That’s the question before the Australian people. Nothing more but nothing less,” Mr Albanese said.
Australians will vote to amend the Constitution to include a new chapter titled Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
The provisions Australians will be voting to approve are:
- There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
- The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and
- The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.
Before revealing the question and provisions, Mr Albanese outlined some of the journey that brought the nation to this point.
“The Uluru Statement from the Heart invites all Australians to walk together to a better future. Today, we take a very important step forward on that journey,” he said.
“After many months of careful consideration on the draft form of words that I presented at Garma last July, the referendum working group and the government have agreed on the provisions that all Australians will vote on in this year’s referendum.
“I want to thank, sincerely, all the members of the working group and all who have engaged with them.
“For many, this moment has been a very long time in the making. Yet they have shown such patience and optimism through this process.
“And that spirit of cooperation and thoughtful, respectful dialogue has been so important at arriving at this point in such a united fashion.”
After revealing the question Australians will vote on, Mr Albanese fought back tears asking them to support it.
“If not now, when? This is an opportunity that doesn’t belong to the politicians, it belongs to every Australian equally. One person, one vote,” he said.
“People from all faiths, backgrounds and traditions, all of us will have an equal say. All of us can own an equal share of what I believe will be an inspiring and unifying Australian moment … This is a modest request. I say to Australia, don’t miss it. Don’t miss it.
“This is a real opportunity to take up the generous invitation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This is about the heart, but it’s also about the head.
“If you think things have been working up to now, look at the closing the gap issue. If you want to look at the best programs for Indigenous Australians that have been successful, they have all been characterised by having that sense of ownership.
“They’re the things that have worked. They’re the things that will work in the future. This is not about symbolism.
“This is about recognition, something that’s far more important, but it’s also about making a practical difference which we have, we have, a responsibility to do.”
The government will now introduce legislation with the proposed wording to the parliament next Thursday.
It will also establish a joint parliamentary committee to consider the wording and receive submissions before the parliament votes on it in June.
The Prime Minister said there was no circumstance under which the Voice would not be voted on.
“You only win when you run on the field and engage, and let me tell you, my government is engaged. We’re all in,” he said.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the Liberal Party remains undecided over whether to support the Voice.
“We want to contemplate, consider what the government’s putting forward and look at the pros and cons,” he said.
The government and the opposition struck a deal on Wednesday over the machinery bill, with Labor agreeing to the Coalition’s request for an official pamphlet to be distributed outlining the yes and no cases, but the government did not agree to publicly fund the respective campaigns.