Unfiltered Thoughts: The Voice Referendum

At the end of this year, we get a chance to have our say in the Voice to Parliament referendum. It’s a HUGE deal that’s got everyone talking, sparking a debate across the whole country.

Supporters of the Yes vote are all about making positive change happen. They believe this referendum can push our society forward – think human rights, equality, and social justice. They’re tired of outdated traditions holding us back and want to create a future that’s inclusive and diverse. A Yes vote, they argue, can make our society fairer, more accepting and all about respecting everyone’s voice.

However, there are definitely those who have concerns and doubts about the Yes vote. They worry about what might happen if we blur the lines of established social institutions and undermine traditional values. Cultural norms might be at risk, and they wonder about the impact all this could have on future generations.

We need to take a moment to understand all perspectives. We need to have respectful, informed discussions that dig into the values and principles at stake. It’s important to think things through carefully and decide what matters most to all those impacted.

So, what’s your take on this pivotal moment? We want to know your unfiltered thoughts! Speak up, join the conversation, and let’s figure out how we can shape a future that represents all of us—the diverse, passionate, and opinionated.

 

Content Warning

The following unfiltered thoughts may contain themes that might be difficult to read or triggering to some readers. Readers in need can visit our Creating a Safe Space page to see a full list of support services.

 

A Voice to Stop Colonialism

Yesterday a woman asked me, “Do you know what colonialism in Australia is?”

Not what it was, what it is. She wasn’t asking me if I simply knew the bloody history of Australia; she was asking me whether I knew how much it still infiltrates Australia and is constantly expressed. Because colonialism is undeniably still a thing in Australia.

An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander boy is more likely to be incarcerated than graduate university. The first time I heard this, I cried. An Indigenous person is more likely to die in jail than any other non-indigenous person, despite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people only being 3.8% of the population (ABS). Life expectancy is shorter for Indigenous people, yet doctors still have a lack of understanding on Indigenous health. Indigenous youth are 24 times more likely to be put in detention than non-Indigenous youth. 24.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience colonialism to this day in Australia. We may ignore it, but that is all that it is: ignorance. ‘If you don’t know, vote no’ is nothing but ignorance of Indigenous people and the brutal realities they face. If you don’t know, find out! Find out and vote yes.

Charlotte (she/her), 16 QLD

 

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing: Confirmation Bias and the Referendum

In the lead up to this referendum, it’s common to hear those in conflict with the yes vote parroting the narratives that the YES is being pushed by leftists, or mainstream media, or THE MATRIX.
And yet, the ones certain of the governments hidden agenda, seem the most unsure of what the Voice truly entails.

They’re philosophically well-equipped with tails of corruption and ulterior motives, fed to them from places like Sky News, and well, Facebook. Confirmation bias is rampant within the NO population, and something which seems to be responsible for the rampant ignorance within the community. A conservative friend on Facebook argues of his distrust of “mainstream media” and soon enough his plethora of followers begin to swallow copious amounts of misrepresented information from whom they believe to be unbiased. Any word of YES is spat out before it can be chewed, and words of NO are fed to confirm their preconceived notions. It seems, despite the intentions of the referendum, the indigenous population, once again have started at a disadvantage.

Adrian (he/him), 19 NSW

 

Why Should I Have A Say?

“Why should I have a say?” It’s one of the first thoughts that came to my mind when I heard the news of the referendum being announced. As someone who has had the privilege of settling in Australia as a migrant, one who enjoys a better quality of life than many marginalized communities living in this country, and one who is still on her path to increasing her knowledge on First Nations struggles, I felt like an imposter being asked a very pivotal question. Truth be told, I have heard this sentiment echo amongst many other migrant communities who felt like they did not have enough knowledge to decide on a vote. When you first migrate to Australia, some of the quick-fire things they get you to do are:
1) Brush up on your footy knowledge.
2) Choose a sport of your choice and pledge allegiance to it.
3) Get acquainted with the local slang and accents to learn your way of the land.

Beyond these surface-level things, there’s never any training or pathway to learning about what we can do as migrant-settlers for reconciliation. There’s no official dialogue for bridging this knowledge gap by the government. And so, the question of, “Why should I have a say?” still reverberates in my mind. As someone who has settled on stolen land, the true traditional owners are the ones who should have the final word. However, I can’t sit back and rely on institutions to educate me anymore. With this referendum, I am going to embark on my own journey of reconciliation.

Hashwina (she/her), 26 VIC

 

A binary vote, but not a binary issue

The Voice to Parliament is a very divisive issue. A lot of people are strongly Yes or strongly No. Some who support a No vote think that The Voice will have too much power, whilst other No supporters think that the Voice won’t have enough power. A lot of people support a Yes vote because they value Indigenous rights and want to support Indigenous people. However, the Yes/No debate is not a binary issue. One major oversight that a lot of Yes supporters AND No supporters fail to recognise is the diversity of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, encapsulating an incredible diversity of opinions. People are quick to think that all Indigenous people feel the same about The Voice, without recognising that there are about a MILLION different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. On top of this, there are hundreds of different Indigenous language groups in Australia, who are all distinct nations with their own geographical and cultural contexts. When considering The Voice to Parliament, it’s important to remember that the binary Yes/No vote doesn’t make this a binary issue, because Indigenous people are not one entity.

Stephanie (she/her), 21 TAS

 

2023 – a turning point in Australian History

2023 marks a crossroads for the decade-long journey of reconciliation. The 1967 Referendum, identical in many ways to the 2023 referendum, marked a turning point in reconciliation. While symbolic, this referendum was described as a ‘domino effect’ – spurring positive change for First Nations peoples throughout the 20th century, culminating in Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s everlasting transfer of land to Vincient Lingiari, the landmark Mabo Decision, and Paul Keating’s remarkable Redfern speech. Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology also marked a turning point – escalating reconciliation and allowing wounds to be healed. The voice referendum, if passed, can also mark a ‘turning point’ in Australia’s history. As a first nations person who cannot track his identity due to the stolen generations, this referendum marks hope. A hope that Australia will embark on a positive change. However, it equally marks fear. If the referendum fails? Reconciliation will be buried deep within the ground. The hope of healing. The hope of righting our wrongs. Somehow, reimbursing the oldest living culture within human history for 235 years of oppression, genocide and pain. More Indigenous boys go to prison than university. Our current approach is failing. Australia needs a fresh approach. The voice is exactly that.

Gabriel (he/him), 16 QLD 

 

The looming Australian decision: what the Voice means for our nation

The Indigenous Voice to Parliament is symbolic of the attitudes and values of Australia: if our country is to vote “no,” it will mark the symbolic rejection of equity, justice, and reconciliation. While the composition and functions of the Voice can be changed, its fundamental power to grant First Nations people a place for their perspectives to be heard will be enshrined in the Constitution, signalling the right of First Nations people to shape their future: this Voice is formed by First Nations peoples, for First Nations peoples. The fact that the “yes” or “no” vote has become a debate and a political issue shows exactly why we need it. We need to have our First Nations peoples on the forefront of Australia’s dialogue, not just White Australians: they have been silenced for too long, and it is time to amplify their Voice. To be able to debate on whether the Voice should go ahead or not – especially by weaponising it as a political/partisan issue – is itself a sign of privilege. For once, let First Nations people decide what is best for First Nations people. Our nation should vote “yes”: “yes” to justice, “yes” to equity, “yes” to our First Nations having their Voice rightfully enshrined within our country’s Constitution.

Joy (she/her), 17 QLD

 

Reclaiming the debate & the importance of The Voice

The present state of the voice debate demonstrates why we need a Voice To Parliament in the first place. Currently, The Voice has turned into a political debate between the two political parties. However, by using the voice debate as a political weapon to attack other parties and ignite political divisions, Indigenous Australians have been sidelined in the process. In place of the valuable perspectives of Indigenous leaders, media platforms often amplify the opinion of white politicians. By establishing a Voice as a first step for making effective change under the Uluru Statement, we can fundamentally secure the right for Indigenous Australians to be forever present in the political conversation.

William (he/him), 17 QLD 

 

Yes to Reconciliation and Representation

For a long time, First Nations peoples have fought to be included, have equal rights, have their culture celebrated and appreciated, and have the truth told to all Australians about the past. I believe that the government and legislation are some things that will play a major role in ongoing reconciliation progress. I wish we could fix peoples understanding, beliefs, and racism with education and advocacy, but that is a hard task to fulfil. It is not only time for Indigenous people to be seriously included in Australia’s federal parliament, making laws about things that directly affect them and the continuity of their practices and beliefs, but to have them embedded as the first peoples of Australia.

Although it would not be a new branch of parliament and only an advisory body, I believe that even having a place for Indigenous people to feel represented and have the chance for their voices to be heard is so important. This opportunity is one that should not be wasted, and I am scared of the repercussions of this referendum not passing; I do not want the government to say that they’ve “tried their best” or “done their share” of the work and have no real progress made for years into the future. This is why we must vote yes. Indigenous people have a multitude of beautiful and respectful practices for each other and the land we live on, ones that makes Australia a better place, but they are constantly targeted in unfair abuse, and it is time to see progress and change.

Lily (she/her), 17 QLD

 

Why have a voice when we have a democracy?

Of course, constitutional recognition for First Nation’s people marks a pivotal moment in the nations’ history. Nonetheless, it’s not hard to find people who have their reservations as to whether such an advisory body would be necessary. In a ‘fair democracy’, shouldn’t Indigenous people already have a sufficient voice? The thing is, we don’t have a ‘fair democracy’. We just have our best model of what one would look like, and despite the efforts made to ensure inclusivity and fairness, there are evident discrepancies in representation. There are factors to consider aside from merely the democratic process. There are the wounds that exist from before we had a ‘just democracy’, and there are yet to be more wounds felt in spite of it. The assumption that our democracy is absolute in its fairness and representation is a dangerous one. It is our responsibility to see to it that such oversights are amended. I believe our governments treatment of First Nations people is one of those oversights.

Faisal (he/him), 17 QLD

 

We Cannot Stand Still

Changing our constitution, the very foundation of all law in our country, comes with an incredible amount of baggage and consideration. Yet, despite the massive impact, I still firmly believe in a Yes vote, for a simple reason: we need change.

There’s an idea which floats around our society a lot, and especially when considering changing laws, that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” But our society is broken, we do need change. First Nations people have lower life expectancy, higher incarceration, and a overall quality of life significantly below the general population. Even if the Voice isn’t perfect, even if there are major flaws, we need to do something. Too often we let our system stay the same, out of a fear of change, but I believe that we need to be more fluid. If we implement the Voice and everything its detractors say happens, then we adapt and we fix them. If there is the possibility of improvement, even the slightest glimmer in an endless darkness, then we have to grasp that and hold tight. We cannot keep drowning in the abyss, we cannot keep things the same, because they are so clearly broken.

Nathaniel (they/them), 17 QLD

 

History is Calling

The referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament is one of the most important national conversations Australians will have. Noel Pearson said, “This will be the most important question the country answers perhaps other than the Federation question itself in 1901.” He cannot be more right.

The referendum is a chance to finally recognise the longest continuous culture on this planet. A culture that has been connected to this country for 65,000 years and has continued through to this modern day in the face of dispossession, genocide and separation of our Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander brother and sisters. Recognition and listening are the key underlying values of the Voice; recognising the proud culture of our First Nations and listening on how to address the issues that differently affect them in health, education, employment, housing, and justice. The model of the Voice allows for direct community representation, something that has been missing from policy decisions and debates on issues affecting Indigenous Australians. It gives communities a voice, and with the enshrinement of it in the constitution, no one will take it away from them with a stroke of a pen.

When politicians butt heads over the Voice, it is lost to the public that they are arguing about real people who make up the most disadvantaged group in our society. Who just 100 years ago were being persecuted and separated by our government simply for being of a different skin colour and culture. Noel Pearson remarked, “A lot of racism nowadays is white fellas fighting white fellas over black fellas.”

As a young person of proud Saibaialgal Torres Strait Islander descent, I fully support the Voice to Parliament, because there is a national duty and a moral obligation to ensure the living standards of our First Nations’ are improved. I encourage every Australian to vote Yes.

Tom (he/him), 17 VIC

 

Who am I to have an opinion on Indigenous issues?

I am a person. I am a person living on the lands of the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation, sovereignty never ceded.

I am not Indigenous. My ancestors travelled here on boats from far off European countries and settled here without permission. Sure, I can’t be blamed for the colonialist, genocidal, and oppressive actions of people born decades before me. But I can hold myself accountable to the responsibility that all of us here, now, today have. All of us, who live, work, play, learn, grow, and breathe on the lands of so-called Australia that were and continue to be cared for by the oldest continuous living culture on Earth. All of us who still benefit from the system built by those colonialist, genocidal oppressors. As people that are a part of something much bigger than us, we all have a responsibility – to understand, to respect, to see justice done to others, to do our part to make this world a better place for all people.

The case for voting No in the official referendum pamphlet practically opens with the statement: ‘If you don’t know, vote no.’ I think this is a cop-out. To vote no because ‘you don’t know what you’re voting for’ would, in my opinion, be a waste of a vote. Ask your questions, read the proposal, talk to Indigenous advocacy groups, contact your local MP’s (of both and all parties), ask, ask, ask, fact-check with reputable sources, ask more questions. The information is out there. This referendum is an opportunity that we will likely never see again. It’s our job to listen and learn and do justice to the responsibility we’ve been given. Use your vote wisely.

83% of First Nations people across the country support an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. So, do I.

Maeson (they/them), 22 WA

 

Not perfect but it’s a start.

I have critical support for the Voice to Parliament.

At the start of 2022, I was very excited to hear that Albanese announced a Voice to Parliament as an election promise. However, as the exact details about how it will work were defined, it seemed like the power the Voice could have was diluted. It would essentially be an advisory body consisting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives without veto or legislative powers. I personally believe the Voice should have veto powers in specific contexts, for example, issues that directly impact First Nations communities. The Minister of Environment, who does not need to have any qualifications in environmental science, has veto power over developments on protected natural parks, yet this is very rarely invoked. I think the Voice should have similar rights to countries like Ecuador, where Indigenous communities have the ability to prevent mining on their own lands, or in Bolivia, where Indigenous communities have control over renewable resources. I have concerns that parliamentarians may not listen to the Voice. For example, I am disappointed that Albanese said he would not listen to the Voice if it suggested a Treaty (even though it is one of three components of the Uluru Statement) or changing the date of Australia Day. I am worried that politicians will use the Voice as an excuse to deny advancing Indigenous rights even further, e.g. I can already imagine politicians on the news asking, “Why do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want xyz, they already have a Voice to Parliament?”.

At the same time, if the referendum doesn’t pass, I don’t know whether First Nations input over federal policy with veto powers or even a Treaty could be proposed in the future. It could take years to have a national conversation like this again. The Voice is still an improvement from the status quo of no constitutional acknowledgement, and it ultimately means First Nations people have more of a say over policy. Many people will vote no because of the concerns I also have but maintaining the status quo won’t guarantee recognition of First Nations agency. The Voice could lead to a Treaty and still has the potential to create real social change. The Voice is not perfect, but it’s a start.

Jesse (he/him), VIC 24