The last federal referendum was in 1999. If you are a millennial (born between 1981-1996) or a Gen Z (born after 1996) voter, the Voice will be your first referendum. And since your cohorts make up about 43 per cent of the electorate and enrolment of young Australians is over 90 per cent for the first time, the youth vote is more crucial than ever before.
A referendum is an issue-based vote to change the Australian constitution, the key document of our nation. Of the 44 past attempts to change the constitution, only eight have succeeded.
Like any other election, it is compulsory for eligible voters to vote in a referendum.
On October 14, most of us will have to go to a polling booth in a local school or community centre to fill out one, short ballot paper. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will also provide pre-poll voting and postal voting options.
Unlike an election, a special double majority - a "yes" vote in a majority of states as well as a national majority - is required for a referendum to pass. The issue at hand in the 2023 referendum is about the recognition and representation of Indigenous Australians. A proposed insertion will appear in a concise proposed law in a single ballot paper on voting day. Voters will fill in a single box with a "yes"/"no" response.
If Australia votes "yes", a new chapter IX in the constitution will literally fulfil two roles:
The Parliament will have legislative powers over the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Voice but need not endorse all its propositions.
This change will be permanent (subject to a future referendum).
The youth vote is important. In addition to being a highly enrolled, substantial chunk of the voting population, younger generations will be most impacted by the outcome of the referendum.
An informed youth vote is even more important, especially when there is a lot of misinformation, intentional disinformation, and hate speech plaguing the public debate. With an overwhelming amount of information in the news media and social networking sites, it might be challenging to filter out reliable and trustworthy details about the Voice.
A good starting point is to look into your mailbox for a pamphlet from the AEC outlining arguments put forth by both the yes and no campaigns.
While critically engaging with this document, you may ask some key questions:
Through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, First Nations people have wished for recognition in the form of the Voice. It is also supported by more than 80 per cent of Indigenous Australians.
Currently, no representative body provides nationally co-ordinated views and experiences of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the government and Parliament.
The Australian government, along with the referendum working group, has provided the design principles outlining what the prospective Voice will look like, what functions it will have, and how it will be accountable.
The Voice is both a practical and symbolic reform: it is practical as it aims to provide a national consultative body of Indigenous people for Indigenous people to better their consistently poor life outcomes. It is symbolic because it is a formal, positive step on the road to reconciliation, moving the nation to truth telling and beyond.
A Voice to Parliament will not give "special treatment" to First Nations people. It will be an advisory body to better outcomes for Indigenous Australians. It will have no veto power: Parliament does not have to endorse all its propositions.
No, the point of the Voice is to make relevant, high-quality representations so that governing bodies can make informed policy decisions
Yes, it is consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which says Indigenous peoples have a right to participate in government decision-making in matters that affect their rights, through their own political institutions.
It could lead governments to give up on reforms to improve lives of First Nations Australians. Voice supporters and Indigenous Australians may feel that the nation does not want to listen to their voices.
Finally, if still unsure, weigh up how a parliamentary advisory body on Indigenous matters, which has no legislative power, can negatively impact you.
Although the AEC website is a good source of procedural information, you can turn to experts for more information about the issue in question. The Conversation, for example, has been publishing academic research and commentary from constitutional lawyers, including answering questions directly posed by the Australian people. On Twitter, @ReferendumQandA - comprising a group of public, human rights and international lawyers - has also been dedicated to answering common questions about the referendum.
For youth-specific information, you may look into the Uluru Youth Dialogue - the only youth and First Nations-led Voice referendum campaign which aims to educate, activate, and connect young Australians across diverse cultures, religions and geographic locations.
Young Australians are markedly among supporters of the Voice. Nationally representative public opinion survey Australian Election Study 2022 shows that, compared to older age groups, the youngest voter group (18-34) is most likely to "strongly support" and least likely to "strongly oppose" a constitutional amendment for Indigenous recognition.
More recently, aggregated results from various Voice polls reaffirms this finding: over a majority (65 per cent) of this age group said they would vote yes to the voice referendum question. In contrast, older age groups (35-54 and 55+) expressed a "majority no" when similarly surveyed.
It is important to remember two key facts about the proposed Voice: it is about recognition and representation of Indigenous Australians. It does not harbour grudges nor does it seek vengeance. But it can play a significant part to reconciliation, in teaching young Australians to learn to tell Australia's history truthfully.
In the wake of the Voice referendum, we must seek appropriate information and educate our communities on the messaging of a Voice to parliament. We owe our First Nations peers a respectful dialogue, and this will mean seeking valid and truthful information about the process, looking for trustworthy analysis of and commentary on the issue, and engaging in careful and respectful discussion, while steering away from harmful misinformation, disinformation, hate-speech and abuse.
As young members of the society, and beyond our constitutional duty, we have the collective social responsibility of carrying a fair referendum to encourage a more inclusive narrative of nationhood, and which will ultimately ensure harmonious relations among future generations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The decision will most impact our lives.
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