Central Land Council voice supporters
Australians living in remote communities are being encouraged to vote in the referendum. Image by PR HANDOUT IMAGE PHOTO
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Referendum’s ‘strength is its simplicity’: law experts

September 25, 2023

As a whirlwind of misinformation and speculation continues about the Indigenous voice to parliament, a panel of law experts has assured Australians the referendum is legally safe.

Voters will head to the polls in just under three weeks, where they will be asked to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first Australians by enshrining an advisory body known as the voice.

Law Council of Australia president Luke Murphy said the group invited legal experts including Professor Megan Davis, Kenneth Hayne, Professor Cheryl Saunders and Greg McIntyre to answer questions about the referendum.

“The panel was unanimous in their view the referendum proposal is simple, straightforward, safe and modest,” Mr Murphy said.

“Its strength is its simplicity.”

Voters should read and consider the wording of the proposal and seek out information from trusted sources, he said. 

The experts said the voice would not be able to demand changes or veto government decisions which meant it would not result in excessive litigation or impact the way parliament functions. 

But critics such as independent Senator Lidia Thorpe believe nothing will change for Indigenous Australians regardless of the referendum’s outcome.

“Nothing changes if it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote,” she told ABC’s Radio National on Monday.

“Our people are still dying at the hands of the system, the system is still racist.”

Communities have become divided over the vote and the Gunnai, Gunditjmara and Djab Warrung woman says her people are hurting more now than they were during the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement.

“There are communities being torn apart, families are fighting one another (on) either yes or no,” she said.

“And what do we get at the end of the day? We get crumbs on the table and that is not good enough.”  

Senator Thorpe says she’s willing to negotiate with the government, but needs to see change for Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islander people, calling for the implementation of recommendations from the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Australians living in remote communities will begin casting their votes at mobile voting stations.

Helicopters, four-wheel drives and boats are being used by the Australian Electoral Commission to reach remote corners of the country.

The efforts will give all Australians the chance to participate in the first referendum to change the constitution since the country vetoed the republic in 1999.

Given the logistically challenging task of accessing remote communities, voting in these areas has opened 19 days before the October 14 referendum date.

Early voting at other locations will start on October 2.

To pass, a referendum needs a majority of states to vote ‘yes’ as well as the majority of Australians.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says this is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity”.

“This is an opportunity to unite the nation,” he told reporters in Adelaide.

“A ‘no’ vote means more of the same and I think we need to do better.” 

Latest Newspoll results from The Australian found support for the voice has fallen to 36 per cent. 

‘No’ supporters, including Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, maintain the voice is too vague.

“All of us want a better outcome for Indigenous Australians, but they can’t get people’s minds across the line because people want to know what it is they’re voting for,” he said.

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