AUSTRALIA’S FIRST REFERENDUM in 24 years is just hours away. Four million ballots have already been cast, and the rest of Australia will soon make a collective decision on the proposed First Nations Voice to parliament on October 14th. Both the Yes and No campaigns’ advertising blitz’s have been in full swing for months now, but there’s plenty of misinformation, unfounded claims and lofty promises out there. To prevent you from getting caught up in the confusion and heading into the polling centre without so much as an inkling of what you’re voting for, we’ve gathered all the information you need.
The debate over the Voice has become increasingly topical dinner party fodder in recent months, and if you want to avoid committing a cringeworthy faux pas—and have all the info you need to make a well-informed voting decision when the time comes—it’s important to know all the facts.
The prospect of a Voice referendum was one of the key promises that helped incumbent Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labour government win last year’s federal election. Labour has kept to its word and is holding the referendum, but the Liberal-National Coalition has taken an official stance against it. As you might expect, not everyone agrees on the implementation of the Voice. Before it’s time to vote, the best you can do is ensure you know what you’re voting for. So, let’s break it down.
What is the Voice to parliament?
The Voice referendum will ask Australian’s whether they support an alteration to the nation’s constitution to recognise Australia’s First Nations people by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. If the vote passes, parliament will be able to design a legislative framework for an independent and permanent advisory body that will provide advice to the Government on issues concerning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This body will take the form of a committee made up of First Nations people, with representatives from every state and territory, the Torres Strait Islands, and remote communities. Members of the Voice will be chosen by First Nations people in their local area and will serve for a fixed period that is yet to be determined.
The final wording of the question that will be put to Australian’s has already been decided. When the day of the referendum comes, this is the question you’ll find on voting papers:
What happens if the Voice referendum succeeds?
To succeed, the referendum requires two majorities. First, it needs ‘yes’ votes to form the majority of total national votes. Secondly, it needs ‘yes’ votes to be the majority in at least four of Australia’s six states. This is called a double majority.
It’s important to understand that if the Voice referendum succeeds, an advisory body will not immediately be established. Rather, a successful referendum will allow parliament to create the plan for the Voice’s introduction and function.
What will the Voice do?
If the referendum succeeds, the Voice would advise the government on matters relating to the social, spiritual and economic wellbeing of First Nations people. The government would need to consult with the Voice on issues that concern First Nations people and take into account the body’s advice.
Contrary to what some dubious information going around the internet might have you believe, the Voice will not be able to pass legislation itself, or take an executive role in parliament.
What is the case for a Yes vote?
This year on referendum day let’s vote Yes for Recognition, let’s vote Yes for a Voice and let’s vote Yes for the better future that both will deliver, for us all. pic.twitter.com/6Ir0DiLA0k— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) August 6, 2023
First Nation’s people are disproportionately disadvantaged in Australian society and, according to the ‘Yes’ campaigns official pamphlet, the Voice aims to remedy this. The life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is eight years lower than that of non-indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians suffer worse rates of disease and infant mortality, have a suicide rate twice as high as the national average, and have fewer opportunities for education.
Anthony Albanese has recognised that current approaches to improving the welfare of First Nations people aren’t working and has promoted the importance of listening to these communities to find solutions.
Linda Burney, the minister for Indigenous Australians, has also described the importance of the Voice. “It’s about drawing a line on the poor outcomes from the long legacy of failed programs and broken policies, and listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said. “This voice is about making sure that what happens in the federal parliament is going to be a positive step forward both in terms of us as a nation, but also the life outcomes for First Nations people in Australia.”
What is the case for a No vote?
Opponents of the Voice come from disparate areas of politics, with some claiming an alteration to Australia’s constitution is going too far, with others claiming it doesn’t go far enough.
The Liberal-National Coalition is at the forefront of the ‘No’ campaign, having officially opposed the Voice. The No campaign’s pamphlets claim that the Voice referendum is divisive, that there aren’t enough details on what the Voice will be, and that First Nations people already have greater representation in parliament than any other ethnic group.
More than 80 per cent of Indigenous Australian’s support the Voice, but prominent First Nations leaders such as Lidia Thorpe have opposed the referendum. Thorpe has claimed that the Voice would be ultimately powerless, as its advice is not legally binding, and has instead supported a First Nations Treaty.
When is the Voice referendum?
The date of the voice referendum is officially set as Saturday, October 14th, but some ballots have already been cast due to early voting and mail-in votes. Anthony Albanese announced the date of the referendum on August 30th, and there won’t be a last minute change. The referendum is on a Saturday, so hold off on making plans that would take up your entire day, and perhaps reconsider embarking on any late-night shenanigans the day before that might leave you too hungover to vote.
When and where do you vote for the Voice referendum?
If you’re voting on October 14th, you will need to vote at a registered polling place. You can find your nearest polling place here: aec.gov.au
Polling places will be open from 8am to 6pm local times on October 14th. If you are unable to make it to a polling place on the day of the referendum, you will need to vote early. More information on voting early can be found here: aec.gov.au
Is it compulsory to vote in the Voice referendum?
All eligible Australian citizens aged over 18 are required by law to enrol and vote in referendums, including the Voice referendum. That means that if you’re eligible to vote and fail to do so, you could face fines. Votes from residents of the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory will not contribute to state majorities but will be counted in the national majority. So, if you’re a Canberran or Darwinian hoping you could give the referendum a miss, you’ll have no such luck.
How do you know if you’re eligible to vote in the Voice referendum?
To vote in the Voice referendum you need to be registered on the electoral roll. Registration for the electoral roll closed on September 18th, but you can check your enrolment here: aec.gov.au/check
What happens if you don’t vote in the Voice referendum?
If you were hoping to skip out on voting in the Voice referendum and get away scot-free, you’ll have no such luck. As long as you’re on the electoral roll, you have to vote. And unless you can provide a valid reason for why you didn’t vote, you could face a $20 fine from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).
What does John Farnham have to do with the referendum?
As you may recall, the Yes campaign has fronted their advertising blitz with commercials featuring John Farnham’s iconic song, ‘You’re the Voice’. The song soundtracks a series of ads from the Uluru Dialogue and is believed to be the first time Farnham, who is recovering from cancer, has ever permitted the song to be used for commercial purposes.
“This song changed my life. I can only hope that now it might help, in some small way, to change the lives of our First Nations peoples for the better,” Farnham said.
You’re the Voice plays over the ad, released on TV and digital channels yesterday, which shows other major moments in Australian history, including the 1967 referendum, Cathy Freeman’s gold medal run at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2008 apology for the Stolen Generation.
Farnham is the latest high-profile musician to support the referendum, after singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, who last week released a new single advocating for a yes vote.
When will we know the results of the Voice Referendum?
That depends. First of all, the AEC is not allowed to declare a result on the day of the referendum, but statistics and voting trends will likely give us a fairly clear indication of which way the vote is swinging on Saturday night. When the official result will be declared however, is a different story. Vote counting is a lengthy and laborious process, and although four million votes have already been cast they can’t be counted until polling places have closed on October 14th. The AEC is required to count each vote more than once, and mail-in votes and overseas votes can also slow down the process. It could be up to two weeks before we get the official result.