Giving voice to facts about the Voice

Posted on 05 Sep 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Professor Tom Calma

A leading academic and Indigenous elder has urged Australians to focus on facts, not opinions, as the countdown to the Voice referendum gains momentum.

Professor Tom Calma urged Australians to stay informed and not be swayed by “the mis- and disinformation that are being promoted by pundits who are ill-informed or have malicious intent.”

In his impassioned delivery of the Diversity Council of Australia’s Anna McPhee Memorial Oration in Melbourne recently, Professor Calma explained why the Voice referendum on October 14 was important for reconciliation in Australia.

“I stand here today with a passion many of you share – to enhance the rights and quality of life of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to progress reconciliation and social justice,” he said.

“Walk with us for a better future for all. Start the journey and vote yes.”

A respected Elder of the Kungarakan and Iwaidja people in the Northern Territory, Professor Calma is a long-time human rights and social justice campaigner and 2023 Senior Australian of the Year.

He is co-author of the Indigenous Voice co-design process and final report which has become a foundational guide for the Voice to Parliament.

In an emotional speech that received a standing ovation, Professor Calma methodically unpacked the principles behind the proposed change and set about dispelling some of the many myths surrounding the Voice.

”This is not about race politics or dividing Australia. It is about uniting Australia and making our nation stronger.

“The Voice is not about a special right – it is about a basic right,” Professor Calma said.

“All Australians will remain equal in the eyes of the law – the rule of law will still apply to all Australians. The only thing that changes is that there will be a permanent new body to provide advice on Commonwealth laws, policies and programs that affect First Nations people.”

Professor Tom Calma 2
Professor Tom Calma delivers the Diversity Council of Australia Anna McPhee Memorial Oration in Melbourne.

Professor Calma called on all Australians to lead conversations in their communities on the Voice, to help raise awareness of the importance of the proposed change, and the opportunity for all Australians to stand with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and spread the load.

“I encourage all Australians to focus on the facts and not ‘opinions’ or the extreme hypotheticals that prevail to inform yourself about the Voice referendum.”

Professor Calma rejected claims the government’s Voice proposal lacked detail and maintained information was readily available, pointing to the co-design report handed to the Morrison government in July 2021 which has been in the public domain since December of that year.

“This report alone can enlighten people on how the Voice might operate, how it might be structured and how membership might be determined.”

Professor Calma received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech.

While urging for an end to misinformation and instead for Australians to take it upon themselves to learn more about the Voice, Professor Calma remained hopeful for the future.

“While we have many older Australians who have negative or ill-informed attitudes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples because they were denied a balanced history education, I am confident this will not be the case for future generations.”

Read Professor Calma’s full oration here.

More Information

Thomas Mayo: What the Voice means to me

Community sector leaders create a coalition for 'Yes' vote on Voice

The Uluru Statement from the Heart

Reconciliation Australia

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