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The dark side of The Voice

By Murray Hunter - posted Monday, 23 January 2023

One of Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese's primary election promises last year, was to hold a referendum to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander's Voice, within the federal parliament. To pass, this requires an overall majority of voters approving the plebiscite, plus there must be a majority of votes in at least four out of the six states.

Setting up a 'voice' within the Australian parliament was a key recommendation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a 12 paragraph document written by and endorsed by 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in 2017. Within the document was a call to change the Australian Constitution to improve the representation of indigenous Australian views to the parliament. This would provide constitutional recognition to indigenous Australians and provide them with an avenue to give advice to the federal parliament and government on how indigenous lives can be improved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples.

If successful, the following text would be added into the Constitution:


1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to parliament and the executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

3. The parliament shall, subject to this constitution, have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Australians in the referendum will be asked the following question:

Do you support an alteration to the constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?

If successful, this enables the present government through the parliament to determine and structure 'The Voice' the way it wants. To date, the Albanese government has not given any specifics about how 'The Voice' would actually be structured and operate.

Traditionally, the Australian Electoral Office (AEO) posts out to voters a summary of both the 'yes' and 'no' arguments before a referendum. The 'yes' case is written by parliamentarians who support a 'yes' vote in the coming referendum, and the 'no' case is written by those parliamentarians who support a 'no' vote in the referendum.

However, prime minister Albanese has proposed eliminating the 'yes/no' case pamphlets for this referendum. The reason given for this change in convention is the claim that 'modern technology' allows parliamentarians to express their views directly to the public, that didn't exist during the 20th Century.


Under existing laws, the Government is required to submit to the public the 'yes/no' cases. However, the Albanese Government is repealing this through the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Amendment Bill 2022. If referendum succeeds, this move could potentially open up a door for a constitutional challenge to the validity of the result.

The failure to provide official 'yes/no' case arguments potentially open the doors for those who support a 'yes' vote, to brand those who support a 'no' vote, as racist. With Australia seeing much open division, which led to hostility during the Covid-19 pandemic, this referendum could potentially develop into an unhealthy polarization of the population. At best, this could either intimidate voters, or lead to a counterintuitive result, where a silent majority just vote 'no'. Either way, this will not be healthy for society and democracy.

Without arguing the actual merits of The Voice, there is a dark side. These 'dark' issues would be 'collateral' to the existence of The Voice, and must be given due consideration.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

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