The Voice Model

Is there sufficient detail known about the model of the Voice to take the question to a referendum?

The answer to this is: YES.


The model of the Voice has been developed since 2017 over three key processes, which have involved Indigenous-run dialogues, a parliamentary inquiry, and a government-led consultation:

  1. The 12 Regional Dialogues and the First Nations Constitutional Convention, that delivered the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
  2. The 2018 Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
  3. The 2019-2021 Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process run by National Indigenous Australians Agency.

We can draw from the combination of the three:

  1. A set of design principles for the formation and operation of the Voice.
  2. A process to follow the successful referendum that learns from best-practice engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and draws on these principles. This process should immediately follow a successful referendum, so as to finalise the model of the Voice according to a strict timetable set out in legislation.

The proposed way forward, using principles and process, is more desirable than setting out a full, detailed model of the Voice prior to a referendum:

  • As a matter of constitutional principle, there is a danger that providing a full, detailed model of the Voice prior to a referendum entrenches this model, making future parliaments reluctant to amend the model that accompanied the referendum. This undermines one of the objectives of the constitutional amendment – to provide flexibility and evolution in the detail of the model.

Common Design Principles:

The Regional Dialogues & First Nations Constitutional Convention, the 2018 Joint Select Committee, and the Indigenous Voice Co-Design process have placed important information into the public domain about what a Voice would look like. We have distilled from those processes the following principles for design of the Voice:

  1. the intention of the Voice is to further the self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within the Australian state, by giving them greater say in matters that affect them;
  2. the Voice is primarily a Voice to Parliament, informing the ultimate national law-making authority, but it must also be engaged with government in the development of policies and legislative proposals;
  3. the Voice must have a structure that represents and reflects local communities in their diversity, giving those a voice who have not had a voice in the past;
  4. the Voice must have cultural legitimacy, in that it must be selected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples themselves in accordance with their own local practices, protocols and expectations;
  5. the Voice should be designed in a way that it can achieve its functions, in particular that it is:
    • provided with stability and certainty, without the risk hanging over it of future abolition;
    • designed so as to be structurally independent of government, as it must represent accurately and robustly the views of those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that it represents;
    • adequately funded and resourced, including through a secretariat and expert input;
  6. the Voice is to be established to represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples politically, and while it may draw on the expertise of pre-existing organisations, particularly those involved in service provision in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities such as peak bodies, it performs a distinct function to them;
  7. the government and Parliament have an obligation to engage with the Voice in defined areas, and the Voice has an overarching power to engage the government and Parliament proactively about policies, legislation, and amendments;
  8. the Voice must be involved at multiple points in legislative and policy processes from the beginning to the end.

More Information:

Click here for a more detailed and footnoted explanation of the common principles above.

Further process:

While these design principles are drawn from a number of concluded processes, none of them have been directed specifically to the design of a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice. To follow best practice, respecting the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to self-determination and to engage with the state through political institutions of their own design, a process to finalise the design of the Voice is necessary. This must be a process in which First Nations select their representatives and are fully apprised of all design options. This further process, to take place immediately after a referendum, is essential for the legitimacy and therefore success of the Voice. It should be set out in a Bill that is passed by Parliament and (in an uncommenced form), and is available to the public voting at the referendum.


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