If you don’t know, here’s how you can find out more.
The Referendum Process
What is a referendum?
A referendum is a national vote on a question about a proposed change to the Constitution.
What is the Constitution?
The Australian Constitution is the founding document that created the Government of Australia and determines how that Government operates. The Government is held accountable to the Constitution by the High Court of Australia.
Is it compulsory to vote in the referendum?
It is compulsory by law for all eligible Australian citizens aged 18 and older to enrol and vote in referendums and local, state and federal elections. If you have enrolled previously for an election you do not need to enrol again to vote in the referendum.
If you are unsure if you are enrolled to vote you can check your current enrolment status here – https://check.aec.gov.au/.
Is the referendum the same as the Marriage Equality postal vote in 2017?
No, referendums concern a change to the Constitution, whereas the Marriage Equality postal vote was more like a national poll.
The Marriage Equality survey was run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics via post. It was voluntary to complete and its results were non-binding, meaning Parliament did not have to pass marriage equality into law even with a majority yes vote.
The Voice to Parliament Referendum however is run by the Australian Electoral Commission, is compulsory to complete and Parliament must carry out the results of the referendum and pass a bill to alter the Constitution in the event of a successful referendum. Voting is very similar to voting in a federal election, where Australians vote an polling places across the country, as well as having options for postal and early voting.
How will the results be decided?
Referendums in Australia are passed only when they have achieved a ‘double majority’ which means both a national majority (i.e. more than half of all votes from across Australia, as well as a majority vote in at least four of the six States (not including the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory, who count towards the national majority only).
For a visual look at this see the AEC’s explainer factsheet.
What happens if the referendum passes?
If the referendum is approved by a double majority of Australian voters, this is the final step in approving the Bill setting out the changes to the Constitution. This Bill will be presented to the Governor-General for assent (final approval). The Governor General will give their assent and the change to the Constitution will be finalised.
For detailed information on the Voice referendum processes, you can visit the AEC Referendum website.
The voting process
When will the referendum be held?
The referendum will be held on Saturday 14 October 2023.
What do I do if I can’t vote on the day?
If you are unable to vote on the day, you can complete a postal vote or a pre-poll vote.
Postal voting: To vote by post, you can apply for a postal vote on the AEC website until 6pm on Wednesday 11 October 2023. You will need to meet eligibility criteria and complete the online form.
Pre-poll voting: Early voting centres open from Tuesday 3 October in NSW. Early voting centre locations, opening days and hours can be found here on the AEC website, just select when you want to vote and enter your postcode for voting places closest to you.
What question do I need to answer on the day?
The question that will be put to voters is whether to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
The Parliament of Australia has agreed to propose adding a new chapter, 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:
there shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
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;
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.
When you receive a ballot paper at the referendum, you should write ‘Yes’ if you agree with this proposed change to the Constitution, or you should write ‘No’ if you do not agree.
Where do I go to vote?
You can use this AEC tool to find a local polling place by entering in your postcode.
What will the ballot look like? What do I need to write?
To see exactly what the ballot paper will look like, you can see it here on the AEC website and even practice filling in your ballot paper. You will need to write either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in full English
For detailed information on the Referendum voting process, you can visit the AEC Referendum website.
What is the Voice to Parliament?
The proposed Voice to Parliament will be a permanent body established to enable ongoing representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People to Federal Parliament.
Members of the Voice would be selected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities rather than the Federal Government.
The way that members will be chosen will be decided after the referendum through engagement with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
For more information on the Voice and how it has been designed, you can read this factsheet.
Will the Voice have the power to stop the Government from making a decision or creating a new law?
No, the Voice will not have this power, you might have heard this described as a ‘veto power.’ The Voice is an advisory body only.
What is being proposed?
A Voice to Parliament would be a permanent body to give advice to the Australian Government on policy and laws of significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It would allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a say on matters that affect them and their communities.
Members will be selected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and will have the capacity to do research and provide written advice to the government on matters that impact their communities.
The Voice would consult with grassroots communities and regional entities to ensure its representations are informed by their experience, including the experience of those who have been historically excluded from participation.
If the referendum has passed, the Government will work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to determine the structure for the Voice and a selection process for members.
Where did the Voice come from?
The Voice was proposed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, an invitation by First Nations people to all Australians for reforms that would achieve rights for First Nations peoples through establishing the Voice to Parliament and a process of truth-telling.
You can read the full statement and learn about its history on the Uluru Statement from the Heart website.
Why does the Voice to Parliament have to be decided in a Referendum?
Since 1967 federal governments have required a mechanism like a Voice to support its work in the Indigenous policy space. The Government needs to know who to talk to on issues that affect First Nations Peoples.
Each of the five previous mechanisms which have been set up by parliamentary processes for this purpose have been abolished by successive governments cancelling programs, policies and investment. This chopping and changing according to election cycles has contributed to the ongoing disadvantage experienced by many First Nations Peoples.
If the Voice was enshrined in the Constitution, it could not be abolished without significant public scrutiny, giving the Government of the day a strong incentive to work with First Nations Peoples and ensure their advice and input is heard.
Do First Nations People support the Voice?
Yes, two polls taken in 2023 have shown that 80% of First Nations people support the Voice. A poll conducted by Ipsos in January found a support rate of 80% and a second poll by YouGov conducted in March found a support rate of 83%.
How do I know if a piece of information about the Voice is correct and factual?
You might be aware of some untrue information about the Voice that has been circulating online. It can be difficult to tell what is factual and what is not factual. Here are some things you can look for to spot if some information is not factual:
Emotional language: Emotions are powerful tools of persuasion. Research shows that using emotional words, especially ones that evoke negative emotions such as fear or outrage, increases the viral potential of social media content.
Incoherence: Incoherence occurs when someone uses two or more arguments to make a point that cannot logically all be true at once.
False dilemmas: In a false dilemma, a limited number of choices or sides are presented as the only options, when in fact they are not the only options. The fact that other options are available is concealed.
Scapegoating: Scapegoating is when a person or group is singled out or takes unwarranted blame for a particular problem. Blame for the problem is cast on a single group or individual who cannot reasonably be responsible for the entire problem and the complexity of the problem is reduced to the role played by this individual or group.
Personal attacks: A personal attack is when someone attacks the person making an argument, instead of addressing the argument itself. Personal attacks are commonly used to redirect the listener away from the subject at hand and towards an individual. For example, the speaker is targeted rather than the argument.
Trick questions: This technique allows people to cast doubt on something (like a referendum) without making any definitive claims. Instead, claims are phrased as questions. By using this technique, the person asking the questions can claim that they’re not making allegations, while making allegations.
Cherry-picking: Cherry-picking occurs when information is provided without context, often to convince a reader that the information indicates something nefarious. This is especially common on social media, where short posts and videos limit the information that is included.
For examples of each of these tactics and advice on how to spot the signs, visit this AEC page.
What is the difference between fact, opinion, mistruth?
A fact is something that is true or real, which is backed up by evidence or documentation, observation or research of some kind.
An opinion is judgement or personal believe that a person thinks about something. It may be based on factual information which means it is more reliable or trustworthy. However, it also might not be based on any factual information.
Mistruth or misinformation is something that is not correct or is untrue. Mistruths can be made intentionally by someone trying to misrepresent the issue or unintentionally by someone who does not know enough about the issue.
What is an informed decision?
When looking at information about the Voice referendum, you should always think about whether the information you are looking at is reliable and trustworthy.
An informed decision is one that considers the reliability and trustworthiness of the facts and opinions and ignores the mistruths and misinformation.
Deciding how I am going to vote
What should I do if I am not sure whether to vote yes or no?
If you are still feeling unsure about how to vote, there are a few things you can do to come to a decision.
- Look at a wide array of coverage about the Voice to Parliament Referendum. If you get most of your information from one source, try looking at different social media accounts, news outlets and website so you have a broad view of the arguments for voting yes and no.
- Speak to someone you often share opinions and perspectives with. If you have a trusted person in your life that you go to for advice or who often shares viewpoints with you, they might be a good person to speak to in order to get some more perspective about how you will vote in the referendum. They might have some ideas that you will agree with (or disagree with!).
- Spend some time talking to people about the Referendum. Even if you’re not sure how you will vote yet, discussions with your friends or family members can help you to think through how you are feeling and to gain new perspectives.
- Look to your role models or people who inspire you. Many people have publicly stated their intentions about how they will be voting in the referendum. These might be people you know in your personal life or they might be community leaders, celebrities, or other well-known and respected people. Find out how your role models or people you think are inspirational will be voting and why.
- Think about your personal values. Personal values are a set of beliefs that you think are important to the way you live your life. Thinking about your personal values can be helpful when making important decisions. For example, Youth Action’s core values include:
- Respect for the different voices and lived experiences of young people across NSW and creating spaces for respectful discussions to learn more about each other’s perspectives.
- Inclusion of the diverse views, experiences, and backgrounds of all young people in NSW and placing high value on hearing from the voices of those most impacted by a decision.
- Compassion and empathy by seeking to better understand the lived experiences and circumstances of others.
- Integrity by being transparent and accountable in the way we conduct our work with young people and the youth sector.
- Professional through our commitment to evidence about what works to support young people and committed to continuous learning and growth.
You can then think about how your values would guide you to make a decision about the Voice Referendum.
Youth Action is the peak body for young people and youth services in NSW.
Youth Action acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We understand that sovereignty was never ceded and recognise their continuing connection to lands, languages, waters, and cultures.
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