As part of accepting the invitation for reform in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the Australian government has committed to a referendum on whether to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution through an enshrined First Nations voice. The Indigenous Law Centre (UNSW) has released three issues papers, addressing critical matters in the lead up to the referendum.
In this issues paper, the authors consider the legal and constitutional requirements for setting the referendum question, and the issues that they raise. The authors offer two principles to assist in resolving these issues: constitutional prudence, and ensuring voters have sufficient information to fulfil their constitutional functions. Drawing on these two principles, we offer a proposal to amend the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 (Cth). This would empower a parliamentary committee, informed by an Independent Referendum Panel of relevant experts. The committee’s task would be to recommend a question that is easily understood and that captures, in a neutral way, the essential nature of the reform.