Aussies will head to the polls within weeks to have their say on the Voice to parliament referendum.
But what will a Yes vote really mean for the nation?
News.com.au put that question to Yes 23 campaign director Dean Parkin, who said a successful Yes vote would have a major impact on both a symbolic and practical level.
“In the achievement of recognition of Indigenous people as the first peoples of this country, we’re saying something about ourselves as a nation, and what we’re saying is that what it means to be genuinely, uniquely Australian in the world is to be home to the oldest continuing culture on earth,” he said.
“That’s something a lot of people have pride in, and it’s the thing that makes us genuinely unique, and now every Australian gets to connect their own existing story and deeply held view of being Australian to 65,000 years of history.
“That will strengthen and enrich all of our sense of what it means to be Australian. It’s not just about Indigenous people and doing something nice for 3 per cent of the population, it’s something that will benefit every Australian.”
Mr Parkin said a successful Yes vote would send a powerful message to governments and parliaments today and into the future.
“The idea of millions of Australians going to the polls and saying very emphatically at a historic level that recognition is important, that a Voice is important, will be a powerful moment in our history and it will send a message to parliament and to governments not just today but into the future that these issues are important to the Australian people,” he said.
“We want parliament and governments in the future to treat them seriously and do the right thing in how the Voice is established, in the way they interact with the Voice and take on its advice and the way both parliament and governments and the voice wholeheartedly work together in unison to address issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
But how will it all play out if the Yes vote does succeed later this year?
According to Mr Parkin, following the referendum, the parliament will do its rightful job of finalising the details of the Voice, although he said there was already an enormous amount of detail regarding what the Voice would look like.
“We know a couple of very key principles underpinning what the Voice will look like – and importantly, it will be independent from governments and parliament. It won’t be another arm, it will be separate and independent to be able to give fearless and frank advice,” he explained.
He stressed that the Voice would be made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from communities across the country, would include a broad cross-section of the community, including youth, and would include a gender balance with equal representation for men and women.
“It will work alongside existing structures – it’s not going to take on a service delivery function or administrative or budgetary function, its job is to provide that advice and existing organisations will work alongside it, and probably provide information and data to the Voice to inform that advice function,” he continued.
“We know it’s not going to be vetoing or blocking legislation in parliament – parliament will continue the way it operates now, but it will just be informed by the experience and knowledge of Indigenous people.
“It’s about trying to work with governments and parliament to get better outcomes and value on taxpayer spending.”
As an example, Mr Parkin said that at the moment, Australia was not on track to meet its Closing the Gap target of achieving healthy birth weights for Indigenous babies.
However, once the Voice is established, the Health Minister could, for example, decide the government needed to change tactics and could seek advice from the Voice which would have a better understanding of the issues facing expectant mums and families than public servants likely would.
“The Voice can consult with people in the community and come back with its views on how the government and health department can change what it’s doing to get better results, but at the end of the day, the minister can choose to go a different way – but at least they’ll have that information. They don’t have that information at a consistent level right now,” he said.
Mr Parkin said the Voice might also see an issue the government was considering and proactively decide to provide advice from the community, such as on cultural and heritage issues.
He said that while the “Canberra bubble” and the media tended to get bogged down in legal details about the Voice, the average person was more interested in the practical ways it would actually work.
“Our supporters can see the benefit of the Voice and how we can have a practical impact, and even for people who are undecided or have questions, this is the stuff they are talking about, they are not focused on the political intrigues and the finer points of what lawyers think is important – they want to know if the Voice is going to make practical change, and I’m absolutely convinced that is the case, because the proposal came from Indigenous people, not political conversations,” he said.