The debate around the divisive Voice has so far mostly revolved around filling in the details of what it is, how it will function, what its powers will be, and whether it will actually fix the issues facing Indigenous Australians.
These are important questions, but there’s a more fundamental issue to consider first.
That is, ‘What does it mean to change the Constitution?’
Because that is the first thing being asked at this referendum. It’s not, ‘do you want a divisive Voice?’ it’s ‘do you want to change the Constitution?’
In all 44 referendums in our history, the wording of the question being asked has included some form of words about “altering the Constitution”.
So before you get to what you’re changing the Constitution for, you need to consider whether you support changing the Constitution at all.
On the 44 previous occasions Australians have been asked that question, the overwhelming answer has been ‘NO’!
For the Constitution to be changed, both a majority of Australians nationally and a majority of the states need to agree. That is, you need 50 per cent plus one across the country to vote ‘yes’, and you also need 50 per cent plus one of people in four of the six states to vote ‘yes’.
Territory voters have their vote counted in the national total, but they don’t count towards the state majorities (incidentally, one of the few successful referendum questions was to allow Territory residents to vote in referendums at all).
If changing the Constitution looks hard, well it is! It’s not easy because changing the Constitution is A BIG DEAL!
Only eight of the 44 referendum questions have been successful. A further five won an overall national majority ‘Yes’ vote but failed because they didn’t win a majority of states.
What that demonstrates is that Australians, rightly, take the question of changing the Constitution very seriously and do not do it lightly.
So when the Prime Minister and other politicians in Canberra push for the divisive Voice by saying it’s a “modest change” they are, by definition, wrong.
Referendums are big expensive logistical events – effectively like running another entire federal election – and they ask Australians to make a serious decision about changing the rulebook of our nation. That’s not modest by any interpretation.
Most of the eight successful referendums have been on technical and process-type questions such as dealing with state debts, Senate elections, and the aforementioned Territory voting issue.
The most successful referendum of all, though, was on recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution in 1967.
A massive 90 per cent of Australians voted in favour of changing the Constitution so that Indigenous Australians (called the “Aboriginal race” in the actual question asked) were counted in the census.
In other words, it made them fully Australian. It means Australians were no longer separate peoples, but were all counted as one.
Voice activists have explicitly drawn a link between 1967 and the Voice proposal – except they’ve gotten it entirely backwards. In 1967 Indigenous Australians were brought fully into the Australian family, making us one.
In 2023, they’re now trying to separate us. The Voice is sending the message that being part of the Australian community on equal terms is not enough. One group should be separated and given more.
That’s just not fair.
And that’s the question you’re being asked: do you want to change the Constitution to reintroduce separation between Australians?
The answer to that is clear: No
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