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Matter from the heart: Tearful Albo reveals the question we’ll be asked in Voice vote

Anthony Albanese has urged Australians to support an Indigenous voice in the constitution to help close the wellbeing gap.

Mar 23, 2023, updated Mar 23, 2023
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese surrounded by members of the First Nations Referendum Working Group speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, March 23, 2023. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese surrounded by members of the First Nations Referendum Working Group speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, March 23, 2023. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch

 

The prime minister joined with members of the referendum working group and key ministers on Thursday at an emotional media conference to unveil the details of the question to be put to voters later this year and the proposed constitutional amendment.

Choking back tears, Mr Albanese – who went to the 2022 election promising the constitutional change – said not putting the question to the people would be conceding defeat.

“Every Australia wants us to close the gap and today points the way to how. By enshrining a voice in our constitution and by listening to that voice,” he said.

“What we have done up to now hasn’t worked. If it worked, we wouldn’t have closing the gap reports. We can’t keep doing the same thing.”

Mr Albanese urged Australians to be part of history.

“All of us can own an equal share of what I believe will be an inspiring and unifying Australian moment. I say to Australia, don’t miss it,” he said.

Voters will be asked: “A proposed law to alter the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?”

The constitutional change will involve adding three sentences: “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 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.”

The proposed introductory words of the constitution will be: “In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia”.

Referendum working group member Thomas Mayo said Indigenous Australians must remain hopeful.

“It has given Indigenous people who have been ignored and treated poorly for far too long a voice so that we may improve our lives,” he said.

“It is profound because it includes over 60,000 years of continuous heritage and culture in our constitution – a recognition from the moment we say, ‘yes’.”

An emotional Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said it would be “a simple but powerful act”.

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“I was 10 years old in 1967 – I spent the first 10 years of my life not being counted,” she said.

“(The referendum) will give all Australians the chance to come together to recognise and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and story.”

The government’s proposed model will have representatives from all states and territories as well as the Torres Strait and specific remote areas, with gender balance and youth members.

Those on the voice will be appointed by communities, not the government, and serve specific terms.

It will also be within the scope of the national anti-corruption commission and members will be able to be sanctioned or removed for serious misconduct.

The federal parliament will decide on the model if the referendum passes.

Laws setting out the question and constitutional change will go to parliament on March 30.

The details followed the coalition and Labor striking a deal to pass a bill on Wednesday night to set up the rules around information and the conduct of the referendum.

Neither campaign will be publicly funded, with taxpayers only picking up the bill for a neutral education campaign to inform voters about the voice and the referendum.

But donations made to both campaigns will be tax deductible.

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