The Voice to parliament should be viewed as a “step in the right direction” to provide a platform for more serious conversations on Indigenous issues and not the solution in itself, a leading expert on Australian constitutional law has said.

Dr Harry Hobbs, an associate professor in Australian constitutional law at University of Technology Sydney, said the Voice would lead to the development of a Treaty and applying the recommendations of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, not be an alternative to it, as some people believed it to be. 

“The Voice is a step in the right direction to allow the Indigenous Peoples to have their say on the issues that impact them. [It] is applying the recommendations of the Uluru Statement from the Heart… it’s about providing a platform to develop the Treaty,” he told Central News.

“It gives Indigenous peoples a say. This should improve the laws and policies made for them.”

Professor George Williams, the deputy vice-chancellor of UNSW, reiterated the point, saying: “It would create the Voice, given it power to make representations to Parliament and government, and allow Parliament to make further rules for how it operates, covering things like its procedures and membership.”

A date for the Voice to parliament referendum has yet to be announced, but is expected to be sometime after October. Last week the Senate voted in favour of the Bill’s wording, ensuring the referendum would take place this year.

They need to convince Australians this is a safe and sensible change.

Since 1906 there have been 44 referendums, but only eight have been successful. A winning Yes vote requires in excess of 50 per cent of the vote nationally, as well as in a majority of the six states.

The latest Newspoll on Monday found support for the Voice had continued to decline, with the Yes vote falling three percentage points to 43 per cent, and the No vote rising four per cent to 47 per cent.

An additional Newspoll of 3852 voters also found most states – Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania – now have more No voters than Yes.

The Voice was introduced by the Labor government promising to bring a real change and improve the lives of the traditional custodians of the country. It would be an independent and permanent advisory body to advise the Australian Parliament and Government on matters that affect the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

The Australian public will be asked if ‘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?’ 

However, despite widespread initial support for the proposal the government’s lack of clarity and failure to allay criticisms, has seen support tumble from a high of 65 per cent nationally in August 2022.

Last week Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney added further confusion to the topic when she said the Voice would not be used to advise on what date Australia Day should be on, then appeared to backtrack the next day.

Professor Williams said he expects the polls to get even tighter in upcoming days, but when the government starts campaigning for the Voice public opinion will sway back toward the Yes case. 

“Things always get tighter as we get closer to polling day,” he said. “It is hard to say more though at the moment as the campaign proper has not actually started.

“They need to convince Australians this is a safe and sensible change.”

Despite its potential, several arguments have been made against the Voice including being divisive and a rushed proposal while others think First Nations people already have representatives and a voice through Indigenous Australians voted into local, state and federal levels of government. 

“The upcoming referendum is certainly a significant time for Australia… it will have a long-term impact either way,” said Dr Hobbs, adding it would improve the laws and policies made for Indigenous Australians. 

“I think when people start to dig into what the Voice is and what it is meant to achieve, they would vote in its favour.

“The government and media need to adopt a simple, clear and straightforward approach when talking about the Voice to guarantee its success.”   

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said admitted winning referendums is difficult but he is “very confident” the Yes vote will succeed.

Critics have accused the government of preferring vagueness over clarity when it comes to the Voice proposal, which opened the door for the No campaign to gain momentum and increase support. 

Main photo by Leonard J Matthews/Flickr