‘Our time’: Prime Minister announces Voice to Parliament referendum date

Date set for referendum

Australians will cast their vote at a landmark referendum to decide whether to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament in the Constitution on Saturday, 14 October, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese officially confirmed this morning at a community rally in Adelaide.

Launching the six-week campaign, the PM labelled the referendum a “once-in-a-generation chance” for Australians to bring the country together and “change it for the better”,

“The idea for a Voice came from the people – and it will be decided by the people,” Mr Albanese declared.

“To vote for recognition, listening and better results. And I ask all Australians to vote Yes.”

The first referendum held this century, Mr Albanese said Australians were being asked to say ‘Yes’ to “an idea whose time has come”, an invitation that came from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves through the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And, importantly, a change he says 80% of Indigenous Australians support.

“A way for all of us to recognise Indigenous Australians and their history in our Constitution and a form of recognition that will importantly make a positive difference to their lives and their futures. A practical way of dealing with issues that, despite all the good intentions in this world, no Australian Government has been able to get right before.”

Changing the Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and enshrine a Voice to Parliament would establish a new advisory body, representing First Nations people across the country, to have a say and provide advice on government policies and laws that affect their lives.

The Voice would comprise a committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, local representatives from every state and territory, the regions, remote communities as well as the Torres Strait Islands, giving advice to Government so that it can achieve better results for Indigenous Australians, the Prime Minister explained.

“The Voice is about advice,” he said.

“The Parliament and Government that Australians vote for in the normal way every three years will still be responsible for decisions and laws and funding. Just as it always has been. With a Voice though, we’ll be able to hear directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities about the challenges they face in health and education, in jobs and housing, and we’ll be able to learn about the things are working in local areas, so we can replicate them and make them work right around the country.”

Australians will be required to write Yes or No at the voting booths on 14 October. Mr Albanese urged them to vote ‘Yes’ so that the children of Indigenous people could experience the same health and wellbeing, educational opportunities, and fulfilling lives. Still, he stressed voting ‘Yes’ wouldn’t fix everything overnight.

“We’re talking about challenges built up over generations – and they will take time to address. But Voting Yes means we will finally have the right approach in place, so we can start finding the solutions. We can make this change together – and then we will make it work together,” he said.

To the cheers of the crowd, Mr Albanese implored Australians not to “close the door” on the next generation of Indigenous Australians by wasting the opportunity to move forward and implement Constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

He encouraged all Australians to make their vote count by listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, reading the Uluru Statement from the Heart, having conversations with family and friends and a talking to ‘Yes’ campaign volunteers on the streets, and, ultimately, understanding that the Voice is a small but potentially powerful change.

“[It’s] pretty clear and pretty straightforward. Recognition. Listening to advice. Parliament continuing as decision-maker. That is the clear, positive and practical request from Indigenous Australians. That is the hand out asking us, non-Indigenous Australia, to just grasp that hand of friendship. And that’s what we can vote Yes for,” Mr Albanese said.

“October 14 is our time. It’s our chance. It’s a moment calling-out to the best of our Australian character. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, this has been a marathon. For all of us, it is now a sprint. And across the finish line is a more unified, more reconciled Australia, with greater opportunity for all.”

As the referendum looms, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), along with the broader trade union movement, will ramp up its unequivocal support for a ‘Yes’ vote and a Voice to Parliament.

“As frontline health professions working across Australia, we believe Constitutional recognition and a Voice to Parliament will be important mechanisms to address racism and, in turn, help close the gap in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians,” ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said earlier this year.

“Voting ‘Yes’ will ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are rightfully acknowledged as Australia’s first people in our Constitution and through a Voice to Parliament, they can have a meaningful say on issues like health, which affect communities the most.”

Speaking to the ANMJ in the lead up to the campaign, Trawlwoolway nurse and QNMU’s First Nations Strategy, Policy and Research Officer, Sye Hodgman, urged nurses and midwives, evidence and ethics-based professions, to educate themselves about the Voice to make an informed decision on their vote.

“There are constitutional powers that are given to government to make laws specifically in respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” explained Sye.

“Every time that happens, communities get hurt. But there is no power or protection for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to even be involved, or recognised, in that process, apart from being a recipient.

Sye said continual evidence has shown that throwing money at the problem doesn’t work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. Since 2008 and the Closing the Gap strategy, billions of dollars have been thrown against the wall for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, with very little to show for it.

“When self-determination and governance is in the hands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and we’re running our own programs, not only are the outcomes substantially better, but it costs substantially less money per program too,” he argued.

Speaking to the ANMJ last week, Aboriginal nurse Georgia Corrie, a proud Nyamal woman born and raised on Wurundjeri Land of the Kulin Nation, and the Yes23 campaign’s NT Coordinator, described the referendum as a “once in a generation opportunity”.  As part of her role, she is sharing the first-hand positive experiences she’s had seeing the Voice work in remote communities on a wider scale within the NT and amplifying those successes to a national level.

Andrea Andrews, a Jawoyn Woman part of the Banatjarl Strongbala Wimun Group, left, and the Yes23 campaign’s NT Coordinator, Georgia Corrie, spreading the message about the Voice to Parliament at the Barunga Festival earlier this year.

“The opportunity for me is being able to share that story, that yarn, with people all over Australia who might not be aware that this is already taking place to a degree, and what a Voice being nationally enshrined in the constitution will open the door to,” she said.

“A lot of the time, it’s giving that hope to people and explaining that this isn’t something new. This is something that we’re doing already that’s working, and we need you to come on board and be part of this.”

Importantly, as an Aboriginal nurse, one of the key areas Georgia believes an Indigenous Voice to Parliament can begin delivering critical change immediately is healthcare. When governments listen to Indigenous people about issues affecting them, she says they make better decisions, and communities get better outcomes.

“This is an opportunity for us. We can’t change the past but we can draw a line in the sand and we can work for a better future and grow as a country. And that’s where recognising our First Nations people, and doing that through a Voice enshrined in the Constitution, is our most important step. And that’s what it is, a step. It’s a beginning for us to work together and to change that direction we’re taking, because we know that no government or Party has consistently had the solution and what has been missing, so sorely, is a Voice from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Visit the Yes23 campaign here for more information

Access the Uluru Statement here 

Visit the government’s information website on the Voice here

Authorised by Annie Butler, Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation, Melbourne 

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