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“If Not Now, When?”: Notes on the Referendum

With the approaching referendum on the Voice to Parliament, Jackson Robb describes what the referendum is, how it came to be proposed as well as what some First Nations people in Australia think about this change. 

On March 30th, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese formally proposed adding a new body of First Nation representatives into the Australian constitution. [1] This Voice to parliament is a huge steppingstone for First Nation representation as it will ensure First Nation communities from across Australia’s states and territories have the opportunity to provide their input on matters affecting their people and communities. The Voice will be put to a referendum later this year, allowing the Australian people to vote on the new legislature and answer yes or no to altering the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia. This article will discuss how the referendum came to be proposed and what First Nations people in Australia think about this new change to the Australian constitution.

The Voice to parliament is a direct response to the 2017 Uluru Statement of the Heart which called for the government to implement a body for Indigenous people in the constitution to support self-determination. The statement reads, “We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country” and how current neglect is “the torment of our powerlessness”. [2] Through implementing the Voice, Albanese is acknowledging the 250+ delegates from thirteen regional dialogues who signed the treaty on behalf of their communities and is encouraging the nation to support the Voice in the next step towards reconciliation. The Uluru Statement of the Heart was initially addressed to former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who’s cabinet rejected the Voice on the grounds of it not being realistic, desirable or capable of winning acceptance at referendum. [3] 

Five years later, Albanese warns Australians, “if not now, when?”. [4] The Voice will give Indigenous Australians the chance to have their opinions heard on government issues, acting as a sounding board that government and politicians would be obliged to consult with on matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. [5] The main criteria provided by the referendum working group states that the Voice will be chosen by First Nation people based on the wishes of the local communities and will be gender balanced, inclusive and include youth. [6] Additional factors such as including two members from each state and territory and members only permitted to serve four-year terms are some other ways the government intends to regulate the Voice to ensure its sustainability. 

However, the Voice only acts as an advisory board to the government and cannot act on decisions. They can only influence through providing commentary and will not be able to “deliver services, manage government funding or mediate between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations”. [7] Opposition leader Peter Dutton spoke on behalf of the Liberal party, saying they will be voting no to the campaign. Dutton said that the Liberal party is in support of a symbolic constitutional recognition, however, First Nation elders have rejected this proposal in the past. [8] Dutton claims the Prime Minister is withholding information about the Voice, claiming “I have spent literally months, like many Australians, trying to understand what it is the prime minister is proposing. We cannot get the basic detail out of them”. [9] Dutton is also noted as being the only Liberal member who was not present for Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the Stolen Generation; a choice he has since apologised for. [10]

The Prime Minister labelled Dutton’s comments as misinformation, with materials both for and against the vote aiming to be sent by the Australian Electoral Commission to every enrolled household. [11] However, there remain legitimate criticisms from some First Nation ministers that should be understood and considered. Liberal senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price has said she will be voting no in the referendum, stating that “marginalised Aboriginal Australians continue to not be understood or heard with this Voice to Parliament”. [12] Price claims the Voice is just another façade that attempts to close the gap and is on record saying the Voice is “racial separatism”. [13] Price also advises that Australians should “not be duped into thinking this is the magic wand to close the gap”. [14] Liberal First Nation Senator Warren Mundine echoes Price’s concerns, stating “These things are not going to be resolved by people sitting around parliament". [15] Mr Mundine has also shown support for Dutton’s arguments, stating “If you're going to make a serious change to our Constitution … it's got to be well presented – if it doesn't do that, it shouldn't happen". [16]

The voices of Price, Mundine and other First Nation no voters are valuable as they illustrate concern over how the referendum will actually affect their communities. However, the other nine First Nation parliament members are in support of the voice, saying it will help elevate Indigenous communities that continue to be misrepresented. The voice campaign has also started illuminating key problems between Australia’s problematic relationship with First Nation people. The Guardian reports that one of the architects of the Uluru Statement, Pat Anderson, has noticed a considerable rise in racism over the last weeks, claiming “The hate is raining down on us … it is in such a concentrated form, and it is nasty and malevolent”. [17] First Nation figures in the media have also been at risk with senator Lidia Thorpe, having her comments about the Voice used in support for the no campaign. Thorpe told the Guardian “I am not a part of their no campaign and my criticisms of the voice process have nothing in common with the arguments of Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine”. [18] Additional examples include the recent exit of Stan Grant as host of the ABC’s Q+A because of consistent social media targeting, or the recent racial abuse towards the Rabbitohs Latrell Mitchell by a 14-year-old spectator. 

The Voice to Parliament is a positive way for Australia to acknowledge its First Nation people and give them a Voice on issues that affect their communities. With no current date set, ensure to keep updated as new information arrives to be ready, and informed, for Australia’s historic vote.  

[1] Hitch, Georgia. “‘If Not Now, When?’: Prime Minister Reveals Voice to Parliament Question Australians Will Vote On.” ABC News, 22 Mar. 2023,

[2] “Uluru - National Convention.” Referendum Council, 26 May 2017,

[3] Wahlquist, Calla. “Indigenous Voice Proposal ‘Not Desirable’, Says Turnbull.” The Guardian, 26 Oct. 2017,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Hitch, Georgia. “Liberal Party Confirms Opposition to Voice to Parliament.” ABC News, 5 Apr. 2023,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Butler, Josh. “Dutton Apologises for Boycotting Rudd’s Apology to Stolen Generations.” The Guardian, 13 Feb. 2023,

[11] Ibid. 

[12] Worthington, Brett, and Dana Morse. “There Are 11 First Nations MPs and Senators. Here’s What They Think of a Voice to Parliament.” ABC News, 30 Apr. 2023,

[13] Butler, Josh. “Who Is Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, and How Did She Become a Central Player in the Voice Referendum?.” The Guardian, 18 Apr. 2023,

[14] Ibid. 

[15] Bourchier, Dan, and Karen Tong. “Key Figures from the Voice “Yes” and “No” Campaigns Explain the State of Play.” ABC News, 1 Mar. 2023,

[16] Ibid. 

[17] Allam, Lorena. “Indigenous Leaders Warn That “Hate Is Raining down on Us” as Voice Campaign Ramps Up.” The Guardian, 26 May 2023,

[18] Butler, Josh. “Lidia Thorpe Brands Leading No Group “Deceptive” for Using Her Quotes in Voice Facebook Campaign.” The Guardian, 23 May 2023,


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