This week, the National Party announced they would not support a referendum to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the Constitution, saying it would create “division” and would not address disadvantage.
What does that actually mean for the referendum? Here’s a quick explainer.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart, a 2017 statement from First Nations leaders, asks for the establishment of a First Nations ‘Voice’ to advise the Federal Parliament. The Voice would advise Parliament on issues that affect First Nations communities. The Statement says this would give First Nations people “power over [their] destiny”.
The Statement asks for the Voice to be written into the Constitution, which currently makes no mention of First Nations people.
Path to a Voice
Changes to the Constitution require a referendum – a nationwide vote that requires a majority of voters in a majority of states to support it to succeed.
Before that, Parliament must vote on the proposed changes to the Constitution. The process for passing this through Parliament is unusual – it could pass in the same way as a law (a majority in the House of Reps and a majority in the Senate). Alternatively, it could pass twice through only one of the houses.
The Government has a majority on its own in the House of Representatives. That means it can hold a referendum without the support of the Nationals or any other party.
In a radio interview this morning, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the Nationals’ decision was “disappointing” but that it was not “anything like a death blow to this referendum. We’re going to be bringing this to the Australian people.”
The Government plans to hold a referendum in the “next financial year” (between July 2023 and June 2024).
The Liberals have a formal alliance with the Nationals (known as ‘the Coalition’). While the two parties usually vote together, they have separate processes for deciding their positions. This means the Nationals’ decision does not affect the Liberals’ decision.
The former Morrison Government was open to setting up a Voice to Parliament, but did not support enshrining it in the Constitution. The Liberal Party now says it has not finalised its position on the referendum. It has called for more detail on the proposal and plans to agree on a position next year.
One Nationals MP, Andrew Gee, said yesterday he “respected” his colleagues’ opinions but that he was a “long-time” supporter of a Voice and his stance had not changed.
Mia Davies, the leader of the Nationals in the WA state parliament, has also said the WA Nationals will support a Voice. Decisions made by the Nationals in the Federal Parliament do not automatically apply to those in state parliaments.