The Voice to Parliament

The Voice to Parliament

A Referendum to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders a say in their own destiny.



Pope John Paul II speaking at Alice Springs stated “(t)he greatest value to be achieved by such agreements, which must be implemented without causing new injustices, is respect for the dignity and growth of the human person. And you, the Aboriginal people of this country and its cities, must show that you are actively working for your own dignity of life.”


As we are no doubt aware, later this year there will be a referendum on granting Indigenous Australians a Voice to parliament. First, let us be clear on what this referendum will be. The simple proposed referendum question will be:

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 proposed addition to the Constitution:

Chapter IX Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia: i. there shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice; ii. the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; iii. 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.

Put simply, this Constitutional change means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will be able to speak to the Parliament on matters that affect them. Enshrining it in the Constitution signifies that successive Governments cannot change, dismantle or remove recognition of the Voice.

From a Catholic perspective: NATSICC (National Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Catholic council) has issued a statement entitled Indigenous Voice Represents a significant stride towards empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. There are over 130,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics in Australia and it is the youngest and fastest growing demographic.

We have always believed in the dignity, value and rights of every human being. We believe that we are all created in God’s Image and Likeness (Genesis 1:26). As such it is incumbent on us to build paths of justice for all people; especially the poor and the marginalised. The Gospels are replete with stories and parables about inclusion; Jesus frequently hears the voice of the stranger, outcast or foreigner who calls out for healing.

Despite 65,000 years of living on and caring for this country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Peoples remain the single most disadvantaged group in the land.

The Referendum is a very simple question. Behind it is a quest for acknowledgment, reconciliation and empowerment. All Australians recognise the severe disadvantage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the need to redress the injustices that have led to poorer outcomes in health, housing, infrastructure, employment and education. Giving people a voice is a first step in that process. All that has been tried till now from a non-indigenous perspective has been left wanting. Sadly, many of those who would oppose the Referendum offer no alternative solution of their own. It is recognised also that some Indigenous would like the Referendum to go further than a Voice. Hopefully a resounding YES as in the 1967 Referendum will bring unity, greater reconciliation and pathways of redress for the past as well as better outcomes for the future.

Our Catholic tradition calls us to reflect on the issues; be informed; talk to our friends and ask ourselves what the Gospel is calling us to do.

Finally, let us consider 2 vital questions: If not this, then what? If not now, when?

Fr Peter Smith of the Justice & Peace Office