Voice to Parliament Referendum Information
The Referendum has been announced to take place on Saturday, 14th October 2023.
Publicly available information regarding the Referendum has been found by many to be confusing, misleading and unclear. This page has been created to support the Noosa community in making an informed decision on the upcoming Voice to Parliament Referendum.
This resource is meant to provide concise, independent, unbiased and evidence-based information on the following topics:
- How, when and where to vote
- The subject of the Referendum
- Arguments both in favour (the Yes campaign) and against (the No campaign) the Referendum question.
- Frequently Asked Questions (with answers from experts)
The information provided in this resource was not created by Noosa Council. The information comes from a number of credible and independent sources including the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), the University of Sydney, the University of Sunshine Coast, University of New South Wales, RMIT University FactLab, Curtin University, and The Conversation, with links provided to each below.
Information on Voting
This information has been provided from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). It is recommended to consult the AEC website for further details.
Just like at a federal election, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will open thousands of polling places around the country. A web tool to find your nearest early voting centre or polling place is now available by the AEC, at this link.
Polling places will be open between 8am and 6pm, local time, on voting day, Saturday 14th October.
You can cast your vote at any polling place within your state or territory. If you're interstate on polling day and need to cast your vote, you will need to visit a designated interstate voting centre.
Hundreds of early voting centres will also progressively open and be available over the two weeks before voting day. For Queensland, early voting will begin on Tuesday 3rd of October.
There is no difference between enrolling for an election versus a referendum. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) uses the same electoral roll, so if you’re already enrolled, then you’re all set to vote at the referendum.
At a referendum, you will receive a ballot paper with the proposed alteration to the Constitution on it, followed by a question asking if you approve the proposed alteration. On the referendum ballot paper, you need to indicate your vote by clearly writing:
- YES in the box if you approve the proposed alteration, OR
- NO in the box if you do not approve the proposed alteration.
If you would like to practice voting in a Referendum, try using this sample ballot paper here.
If you need to enroll to check your current electoral enrolment, click here.
Information on the Referendum
In simple terms, a referendum is a proposal to alter Australia’s Constitution.
The Constitution took effect on 1 January 1901 and is the founding document that sets out how Australia is governed.
The Constitution has a special status as it overrides all other laws and can't be changed by the Parliament of the day. While the Constitution enables Parliament to create or change laws (legislation), the Constitution itself can only be changed through a vote by the Australian people - a referendum.
There have been 44 referendums held in Australia’s history (see here for a full list), with eight proposed changes approved by a vote of the people. The most recent referendum was held in 1999 with proposals to establish Australia as a republic.
Proposed amendments have been on topics such as giving new powers to the Parliament, how referendums are conducted, and certain kinds of rights and freedoms.
A referendum is run by the Australian Electoral Commission in the same way as they do elections. That means most people will vote in a polling booth on Saturday October 14 at a local school or community centre.
There will also be early voting and postal voting, just like in an ordinary election. Voting in a referendum, like an election, is compulsory.
One difference will be that there will only be one ballot paper, making it short and easy to fill out. So the queues at polling booths should move quickly.
A referendum is used to ask the Australian people whether they approve of a change being made to Commonwealth Constitution, which is Australia’s ultimate law.
In this case, the amendment doesn’t change existing words, but instead adds new words to the Constitution. If passed, the amendment would insert a new Chapter IX - Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to the Constitution. The chapter would include a new section 129, which would be as follows:
129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:
(i) there shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
(ii) 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;
(iii) 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.
Put simply, voters are being asked to decide whether or not the above words should be inserted in the Constitution.
The ballot paper does not contain the words of the amendment you will be voting on, as in many cases the amendment would be far too long.
Instead, voters are asked to approve the amendment as set out in the proposed law that has been already passed by parliament. That proposed law is identified by its ‘long title’, which gives a brief description of its nature. In this case, voters will be asked:
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?
A single box is then provided and you fill in your ballot paper by either writing ‘YES’ if you agree with this proposed change to the Constitution, or ‘NO’ if you do not agree (see sample ballot paper below for reference). To practise filling in the ballot paper and for more information, click here.
One of the biggest differences between a referendum and an election is the way the result is counted.
In order for a referendum to pass, it needs to be agreed to by the majority of voters nationally, as well as the majority of voters in the majority of states. This test is called the Double Majority.
- The National Majority is a count of every vote cast across Australia. The result is easy to understand – if more than half of all formal votes cast are for Yes, then the referendum has been agreed to by the National Majority.
- Australia has six states, and in order for a referendum question to pass it must be agreed to by the majority of voters in the majority of states – that means at least four states.
- Votes cast outside of the six states, such as from the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory, are counted towards the National Majority but not towards any of the state counts.
On polling night, every vote cast that day will be counted. In addition, the vast majority of votes cast at early voting centres will be counted as well. A small proportion of postal votes will also be counted - with this quantity dependent on the number of postal votes received back to that point of time.
- Every ballot paper is counted by hand
- Counts for every polling place are conducted twice, to double check the results
- Every aspect of the count is open to be viewed by scrutineers
- Results will be uploaded to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)'s Virtual Tally Room as votes are counted, both on the night and in the days following voting day
- The AEC will only formally declare a result when it is mathematically impossible for any other result to occur.
Like in a federal election, if the overall result is close it may require up to 13 days after polling night for a result to be known. This is the timeframe allowed under referendum legislation for postal votes to come back to the AEC for inclusion in the count. The AEC also has to transport votes cast overseas, at early voting centres across the country or with AEC mobile voting teams back to the various counting centres for inclusion into the appropriate count.
If the referendum passes, it is then sent to the governor-general, who gives assent to it. Once that happens, the amendment to the Constitution is made.
The amendment says “there shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice”. But it also says legislation is needed to determine the composition of the Voice and how it operates. The next step would be consultation about such matters before legislation is enacted to give effect to the Voice.
If the referendum fails, no change to the Constitution is made.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has published a Yes/No Pamphlet, drafted by parliamentarians from each side of the debate, that can be accessed here.
It is important to note that the arguments contained in the pamphlet have NOT been fact checked by the AEC prior to printing. In most cases, the AEC has no legal power to determine whether communication about the topic of the referendum is truthful, or to apply penalties for untruthful communication. It is the responsibility of every voter to critically evaluate any communication you receive.
The resources listed below have independently fact checked the arguments provided in the Yes/No Pamphlet. It is highly recommended that community members read independent resources such as these and inform themselves with accurate information ahead of the referendum.
- UNSW Sydney
- RMIT University FactLab
- Australian Electoral Commission Disinformation Register (regarding the Referendum process)
When you encounter communication about the referendum, the AEC recommends that voters stop and consider before you act on something you read, hear or see online. A lot of information is designed to make the reader feel an emotional reaction like shock, excitement or anger. These are normal things to feel, but they can make it easier to act without thinking – this can be something as simple as sharing a post on social media that might not be accurate.
When you encounter communication about the referendum, it can help think through the following steps:
- Reliable: Is it from a reliable source?
- Current: When was it published?
- Safe: Could it be a scam?
It is also recommended to consider using credible fact checking sites when in doubt.
Further information can be found at the AEC’s webpage on disinformation here.
Frequently asked questions
The following answers have been provided by experts from UniSC, UNSW, RMIT University and The Conversation.
In late 2023, Australians will vote in a referendum about whether to change the Australian Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to parliament.
The Voice would be an independent and permanent advisory body. It would give advice to the Australian Parliament and Government on matters that affect the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Yes, referendums are compulsory, just like every federal election.
The Australian Constitution is currently silent on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. At the State level, four of the states have legislated to expressly recognise Aboriginal people in their Constitutions: s 2 of the Constitution Act 1902 (NSW); preamble to the Constitution of Queensland 2001 (Qld); s 2 of the Constitution Act 1934 (SA); and s 1A of the Constitution Act 1975 (Vic).
Demands to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Federal Constitution started in the 1920s, with Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA). AAPA was formed in Sydney in 1924, led Fred Maynard. The association called for:
- a national land rights agenda
- protecting Aboriginal children from being taken from their families
- a call for genuine Aboriginal self-determination
- defending a distinct Aboriginal cultural identity
- and the insistence Aboriginal people be placed in charge of Aboriginal affairs.
At the second conference held in Kempsey, New South Wales, in 1925, the press coverage of the conference noted that "pleas were entered for direct representation in parliament."
Two years later in 1927, the Association produced a manifesto, in which one of the significant points was for an Aboriginal board to be established under the Commonwealth government, and for state control over Aboriginal lives be abolished. It envisioned:
The control of Aboriginal affairs, apart from common law rights shall be vested in a board of management comprised of capable educated Aboriginals under a chairman to be appointed by the government.
AAPA was forcibly disbanded not long thereafter, and the call was not picked up any further.
In 1933, Yorta Yorta man William Cooper petitioned King George V, demanding for
a member of parliament, of our own blood or white men known to have studied our needs and to be in sympathy with our race, to represent us in the Federal Parliament.
70 years later, the proposed preamble that went along the republican proposal in 1999 included the phrase ‘honouring Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation’s first people, for their deep kinship with their lands and for their ancient and continuing cultures which enrich the life of our country.’
In 2007, then Prime Minister John Howard announced that his government was committed to holding a referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (a successful referendum would have seen a “Statement of Reconciliation” incorporated into the Constitution).
In 2010, the Gillard Government appointed an Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians to report on ways of achieving recognition. The panel provided a set of recommendations, but the matter did not advance any further. The panel recommended:
- The abolition of ss 25 and 51(xxvi)
- The inclusion of a proposed new ss 51A (giving the power to the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws with respect to ATSI peoples),
- The inclusion of a proposed s116A (prohibition of racial discrimination, unless for the purpose of overcoming disadvantage or protecting culture
- The inclusion of a proposed s127A in recognition of original languages
The matter then stagnated.
In 2013 Parliament passed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Act 2013 (Cth), which recognized the first occupation of Australia by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (s 3(1)), their continuing relationship with traditional lands and waters (s 2(2)) and their continuing cultures, language and heritage (s 2(3))
In 2015, the Turnbull Government appointed a Referendum Council to advise on the next steps towards a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution. The Council organized 12 First Nations Regional Dialogues, culminating in a First Nations Convention held near Uluru in May 2017. During the discussion, many of the proposed amendments to the Constitution were abandoned, with the Convention instead releasing a document called the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which we will discuss more in depth shortly. Although he set the process in motion, Prime Minister Turnbull categorically rejected the recommendations of the Uluru Statement.
In 2017, the First Nations Convention released a document called the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which recommended two things:
- a First Nations Voice to Parliament, and
- a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making and truth-telling (a Makarrata is a Yolngu word meaning ‘the coming together after a struggle’)
Makarrata is the coming together after a struggle. The first meaning of the Yolngu word is that of peace after a dispute. According to Gumatj woman Merrikiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, a
Makarrata literally means a spear penetrating, usually the thigh, of a person that has done wrong… so that they cannot hunt anymore, that they cannot walk properly, that they cannot run properly; to maim them, to settle them down, to calm them — that's Makarrata."
Another additional meaning is that of a negotiation of peace, or a negotiation and an agreement where both parties agree to one thing so that there is no further dispute and or no bad feeling.
In July 2017, the now disbanded Referendum Council delivered its report to the Prime Minister. In addition, the Council recommended a provision against adverse discrimination and the passage of a declaration of recognition by all Australian Parliaments. However, in response, the Turnbull government rejected the recommendation for constitutional inclusion of an indigenous Voice on the basis that this would constitute a third chamber, a claim refuted by the members of the Council.
In 2021, the Morrison government’s co-design process in relation to the design of a Voice delivered a report on the design of a non-constitutional Voice.
Immediately after winning the election in 2022, the Albanese Government committed to organise a constitutional referendum to enshrine a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution.