Support to change the Constitution and enshrine an Indigenous ‘voice to Parliament’ is now higher than the ‘yes’ vote achieved in 2017’s historic same-sex marriage postal survey, Vote Compass data suggests.
Passing a referendum is a tough business in Australia: since Federation only eight of 44 attempts have been successful.
For decades there’s been debate about how to acknowledge Australia’s First People in the Constitution, a move which is seen as an important step towards reconciliation.
Now, Vote Compass data suggests public support for such a change is high.
Two in three voters support constitutional change
Overall, 64 per cent of voters support the idea of changing the Constitution to establish an Indigenous body to advise Parliament, while 22 per cent reject it.
The ‘yes’ vote in the same-sex marriage survey was 61 per cent, after weeks of advertising from well-funded campaigns.
Voters support an Indigenous representative body
“It’s really heartening to see that level of support, and shows broader Australia understands why this is so important,” the chief executive of Reconciliation Australia, Karen Mundine, said.
The ‘voice’ concept has been years in the making but has at times struggled to gain political support and momentum, despite high-profile corporate backing. Its future remains unclear, dependent on the outcome of a future inquiry.
Government ‘out of step’ with community support
In 2017, at a historic gathering of hundreds of delegates at Uluru, Indigenous leaders agreed they wanted constitutional change to be more than a symbolic passage or preamble in the nation’s founding document.
Instead they asked for an enshrined “voice to Parliament”, a representative body that would advise our politicians on issues affecting Indigenous Australians.
But then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull unceremoniously rejected the idea, saying it would never gain the support of the public and citing his own experience as a losing campaigner in the 1999 republic referendum.
Vote Compass is the largest survey ever undertaken on the issue of the voice to Parliament, with these results reflecting the views of a representative sample of more than 360,000 Australians.
Tony Dreise, Professor of Indigenous Policy at the Australian National University, said the Government had underestimated the level of support.
“It appears that the Government’s initial reaction was made in too hasty a fashion, when surveys such as this appear to show encouraging support for the concept,” he said.
This year, under Scott Morrison, the Coalition has changed its stance, giving tentative support for the concept in a quiet one-line announcement on page 154 of this year’s federal budget papers.
That support is dependent on a future ‘co-design’ inquiry that will examine the nuts and bolts of how a voice could operate, a process expected to take months or even years.
Voters’ views mirror party positions
The Vote Compass data reveals support for the ‘voice’ varies along party lines, with Coalition voters the most divided. About 38 per cent of Liberal-National voters are supportive of the concept, while 42 per cent are opposed.
Labor and Greens voters are largely supportive of the concept, while One Nation voters are mostly opposed.
Voters response to Indigenous “voice to parliament” depends on party affiliation
Labor has vowed that if it is elected it will progress a referendum on the issue in its first term. But just this week Labor leader Bill Shorten warned a vote can only be held on a “fully formed proposition”.
“There would be a lot of work to do before it can be taken to a referendum with a view to its success,” Mr Dreise said. “At the moment there is too much ambiguity around it.”
“The last thing we need is a failed referendum.”
He said while there has been strong consultation with First Nations people there needed to be greater awareness among the wider public.
“I think there is a lot of groundwork to do before that, by way of information campaigns, building awareness amongst the broader population about what exactly is being proposed.”
Reconciliation Australia says its own polling confirms that Australians will support the concept, and it wants action taken now.
“If these are the kind of figures you’re getting without any advertising campaign, the time is right for this, let’s progress this now,” Ms Mundine said.
“There’s something that’s really logical [about this concept], and I think that Australians are really practical people.”
The ABC’s Vote Compass asks 30 survey questions and then reveals how your views compare to the parties’ policies.
About the data
- Vote Compass responses have been weighted by gender, age, education and place of residence to match the Australian population, creating a nationally representative sample.
- The sample size for this report is 368,097 respondents.
- Find out more about the methodology in this explainer.