Next month Australians will vote in a referendum to decide whether an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament should be written into the constitution.

Here’s what you need to know before you cast your vote.

What’s this got to do with We Are Explorers?

Isn’t We Are Explorers just about hiking and camping? Why are we concerning ourselves with the debate about the Voice to Parliament?

Because everywhere we explore across Australia is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land.

We believe an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament will help First Nations communities better communicate their specific needs to the government and give us as a nation the best possible chance to close the many gaps between First Nations and non-First Nations people.

The Voice will advise on all matters affecting First Nations people, and we hope, will lead to better, First Nations-led management of the environment, flora, fauna, and the beautiful places we love to explore.

This is why we’re voting yes.

But really, what the heck is the Voice to Parliament?

The Voice to Parliament is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory board consisting of elected First Nations members who’ll give advice and recommendations to the current government about issues affecting First Nations Australians.

These members aren’t politicians, but rather advisors, elected by their communities – not appointed by government – across each state, territory, and the Torres Strait, with an even balance of gender, as well as youth and remote representation.

The Voice to Parliament won’t have the power to make laws or veto decisions but rather will give well-researched, experience-led advice direct from communities to the parliament and government on issues that affect First Nations people.

What’s a referendum?

A national vote on a change to the constitution.

Unlike other legislation that can be changed, altered, and removed with the flick of a pen from government to government, the constitution is the overall set of rules and structures that form the foundation of Australia. Any changes to it must be approved by the Australian public. When a government wants to make a change to the constitution it must ask every single (eligible voting) Australian their opinion on the change in a vote called a referendum.

The 14th of October AKA referendum day, will be a lot like other election days where the voting public heads to polling booths around the country to cast a vote (democracy sausage incoming). However, rather than filling out two sheets of paper and numbering candidates, all you’ll be required to do is write ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in answer to the following question:

‘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 most successful referendum in Australia’s history was the 1967 referendum which saw amendments to the constitution to count Aboriginal people in the population of Australia and to allow for states to make ‘special laws’ for all races, including First Nations people, which was the only group to have been previously excluded.

Over 90% of the population voted yes in favour of the constitutional change. (And I’m crossing all my fingers we can do it again.)


‘Vote Yes for Aboriginal Rights’ poster from referendum campaign in South Australian Museum, Adelaide | @philipmallis on Flickr

Why does the Voice to Parliament need to be written into the constitution?

Essentially, so it can’t be abolished with a change of government.

The concept of the Voice to Parliament isn’t actually a new thing. Previous governments have legislated very similar advisory bodies in the past:

  • National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (1973-1977) – introduced by Whitlam, replaced by Fraser
  • National Aboriginal Conference (1977-1985) – introduced by Fraser, removed by Hawke
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (1990-2005) – introduced by Hawke, removed by Howard
  • National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (2009-2019) – defunded and removed by Morrison

So really, there have been multiple iterations of this very idea before! However, as the concept hasn’t been written into our country’s constitution, incoming governments have easily been able to dismantle these committees, congresses, commissions, and conferences if they haven’t been fond of the idea.

Writing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament into the constitution prevents any incoming government from removing it (unless they took it to another referendum and the public voted it out). However, this doesn’t mean governments can’t amend and evolve the Voice if it’s not working how it should.

This is why the detail of the law surrounding the Voice to Parliament is minimal, to allow for different adaptations and alterations of what this advisory body looks like in the future. If there were greater detail and guidelines outlined from the start, we’d be voting for something that has little wiggle room.

Think of the constitution as the concrete slab and framework, and the legislation as the bricks and mortar (renovations allowed).

What are the different stances on the Voice to Parliament?

No – Conservative

The largest group campaigning for the no vote includes the Liberal Party, alongside other conservative politicians. They claim that the Voice to Parliament will divide Australia along racial lines and give special preference to First Nations people. This campaign claims that there’s not enough detail and information being shared about what the Voice to Parliament will look like and that the Labor government is hiding a different agenda.

No – Progressive

On the other end of the spectrum, a small group of far left First Nations people and supporters are concerned that the Voice to Parliament will cede their sovereignty to the colony. Essentially, they don’t want to support a concept backed by a colonial government and are campaigning for a no vote in preference of a different, more drastic and progressive course of action.

Many of these people want to see a treaty first.


The yes vote is being supported by the current Labor government, former prime ministers including Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd, and a significant number of sports stars, musicians, well-known First Nations personalities, and other Australian celebrities.

The yes campaign claims that enshrining the Voice to Parliament in the constitution will allow First Nations people to help advise and lead the way in dealing with issues that impact their communities and help to close the significant gaps between First Nations and non-First Nations Australians, in areas such as health, education, and employment.


Some First Nations people don’t want a Voice to Parliament – should I vote no?

It’s true, not all First Nations people are in agreement with the Voice, but around 80% are.

The Voice to Parliament is the first step in the three-step request that’s been outlined within the Uluru Statement From the Heart, that can help lead Australia towards reconciliation.

The Uluru Statement From the Heart and the ‘Voice Treaty Truth’ three-step process that’s been created as part of it has been worked on for years by many esteemed First Nations Elders and leaders.

The concept of the Voice to Parliament hasn’t been concocted by the current Labor government, it’s not been made up by politicians in Canberra, but rather offered to non-Indigenous Australia by First Nations people as a way of moving forward together as a nation.

The concept of this advisory board has been worked on and undergone a significant consultation process with well-respected First Nations Elders and leaders from all across Australia. Rest assured, there’s strong First Nations support for the Voice to Parliament.

Aren’t there already First Nations people in parliament?

Yes there are already First Nations people in parliament, however they’ve been elected to represent the community within their electorates and their political party.

They haven’t been elected to specifically represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the issues that directly affect them. The members of the Voice to Parliament advisory board won’t be associated with any political party or be pushing a specific party agenda but will solely focus on advising the wider parliament on First Nations issues.

And yes, there’s already a Minister for Indigenous Australians, currently chaired by Linda Burney. However this role has only previously been occupied by one other First Nations person – Ken Wyatt, from May 2019 to May 2022. Before then, despite the position existing since 1968, not a single First Nations person occupied it as there’s no legislation that requires it to be filled by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person.

The members that make up the Voice will be required to be First Nations people.

Why hasn’t this already happened?

It kind of already has, it’s just never stuck. Different versions of the same concept have been introduced by various governments over the last few decades, however as they’ve not been written into the constitution, incoming governments have been able to remove them.

What’s the double majority rule?

In order for the referendum to pass, not only do a majority of Australians need to vote yes, a majority of people in a majority of states need to vote yes. Yep, just states. Votes in the ACT and NT are not counted in the second majority, as the constitution only mentions the need for states to have a majority, not territories.

This means voters in ACT and NT have a less powerful vote than people living in NSW, VIC, QLD, WA, SA, and TAS, so the way you choose to vote in these areas is twice as important!

The irony of the Northern Territory having the highest proportion of First Nations people in the country isn’t lost on me.

Can I trust the government?

This is a big question that’s come up a lot in recent years. When governments continue to make promises and not keep them it’s easy to become jaded and wonder if anything they say can be trusted.

However in this instance, the government is being led by and consulting with First Nations Elders and leaders in order to get this right. This is a concept that was requested in 2017 with the Uluru Statement From the Heart. It’s a request by the First Nations people of Australia, it just happens that the current Labor government is the first government willing to consider fulfilling it since then.


Denise Bowden, CEO of Yothu Yindi, signing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in Central Australia | @prachatai on Flickr

Will voting yes make us more divided?

Despite what some people will have you believe the Voice to Parliament is not an additional governing body. It’s not a third chamber of the parliament and has no ability to make laws to benefit First Nations people. It’s simply an advisory body that gives advice.

The real question is, are we actually as united right now as some people are making out that we are? Voting yes has the potential to make us more united as a nation.

Other colonised nations already have a similar advisory board written into their constitution and they’ve not fallen apart. In fact, New Zealand never had to have a referendum to decide if a Maori voice to Parliament should be in the constitution as it was written into it when modern-day New Zealand was founded in 1867, along with the Treaty of Waitangi (we’re still waiting for an Australian treaty BTW! That’s the next step).

How do I explain why I’m voting yes to my mates voting no?

So your mates are against the Voice to Parliament? Honestly, sometimes trying to reason with someone whose stance is at the other end of the spectrum to yours is a waste of time and energy. If you’re passionate about convincing people to vote yes, your time will be much better spent chatting to people who are on the fence or don’t completely understand what they’re voting for. Diagram for reference!



The aim is to try and move everyone you chat with one segment to the left


If you’ve decided to vote yes you probably have your own personal reasons which are valid and worth sharing with your mates. However if you’re voting yes but aren’t quite sure why, here are a few ways to think about and explain your choice.

  • I’m voting yes because the current system isn’t working and a change like this has the potential to set our nation on a new path towards reconciliation and unity
  • I’m voting yes because esteemed First Nations Elders and leaders have worked tirelessly for years to bring this concept to fruition and I trust that they know what’s best for their people and community
  • I’m voting yes because voting no leaves us at a dead-end
  • I’m voting yes because I know I can still be critical of the government while supporting First Nations people to raise their voices
  • I’m voting yes to stand in solidarity with the First Nations people of Australia and to afford these communities the chance to speak on the matters that concern them the most at a federal level

The outcome of the referendum will either move Australia a big step forward or leave us stagnant. The good news is, we all get the chance to nudge our nation forward together. Let’s make the most of our right and privilege to vote and move us towards a more united future.

Let’s vote yes.