Australia’s coalition government and the Labor Party Wednesday passed legislation enabling the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum to proceed at the end of 2023.
The Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Amendment Bill of 2022 amends the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act of 1984 to align the referendum with federal voting on issues such as postal voting and foreign donation restrictions. The amendments also align authorisation requirements with the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1918.
If enacted, the Voice would be “an independent, representative advisory body for First Nations people” and “provide a permanent means to advise the Australian Parliament and Government on the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on matters that affect them.”
The bill is a significant step towards holding the referendum between October and December of this year. While Labor has not agreed to the coalition’s request for equal funding across the “Yes” and “No” campaigns, it will allow for a pamphlet to be distributed for each side. A campaign of “neutral civics” will run across the country to ensure voters understand the referendum process and the meaning of the constitutional change.
The deal does not include proposals like fact-checking on the official pamphlet, lowering the monetary threshold for disclosing donations to $1,000 and extending telephone voting. Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe pushed for traditional language pamphlets, extended phone voting in remote areas and day-of voting enrollment to benefit Indigenous people who may not be enrolled.
The Referendum Working Group, including Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney, met last week in Adelaide to discuss “the wording of the proposed amendments to the Constitution to include an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament and progressed the wording of the question on the ballot paper.” The Referendum Working Group will once again come together in Canberra ahead of presenting the proposed wording and question for the referendum to the government.