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What is the Voice to Parliament?

It’s a body that would allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the ability to give Parliament advice on policies and projects that impact their lives. It would put Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and advice at the forefront of policy-making, rather than the policy being made without those voices.

As of now, there is no systematic process in policy-making for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, meaning that policy is often made for them, but without them. This is where the Voice to Parliament would come in, and provide a framework for this advice to occur.

How would it work?
Many structures have been proposed, with two prominent ideas:

Constitution
Enshrining into the Constitution would require a strong vote in a national referendum. This idea is favoured by many First Nations people for the stability of guaranteed existence enshrining in the Constitution provides. Enshrining the Voice into the Constitution was raised and supported in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation from First Nations to “walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”. It was issued to the Australian people in May 2017 following almost two years of work.

How a change in Constitution could happen:

  • A group of people including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, government experts and politicians would design a set of rules about how the ‘Voice’ would work, and what it can do.
  • In order to change the Constitution, Australians would then vote in a referendum to decide if the existence of the ‘Voice’ should be permanently enshrined and protected in the Constitution

Legislating
The other prominent idea – legislating the Voice body – would not mean a change in the Constitution, but rather would exist as legislation.

How the legislation could happen might look something like this:

  • Similar to above, a group of people including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, government experts and politicians would design a set of rules about how the ‘Voice’ would work, and what it can do. As the Constitution is not getting changed, there is no need for a referendum.
  • Parliament would then vote on the Voice.
  • The existence of the Voice would not be in the Constitution, and changes to the legislation could be made over time.

So what’s going to happen?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously dismissed the idea of a change in the Constitution. In the meantime, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Ken Wyatt has appointed a group who will provide a final report on design options and recommendations on how the Voice should be implemented. The final report is expected between June and August.

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