History and the Voice

Statement in support of the Voice Referendum

Discipline of History at the University of Sydney

The 2023 Voice Referendum

We, the undersigned members of the Discipline of History, our students, and friends of History at the University of Sydney, support the upcoming referendum on the Constitutional recognition of First Nations by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

In 1901, the Australian Constitution was founded on principles that silenced First Nation Australians and excluded them from the Commonwealth. That legacy lives on. The referendum presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Australians to change the constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to provide a constitutionally protected Voice that gives them a say in the laws that affect them, allowing for real, practical improvements in areas like jobs, health, education, and justice.

The Australian Constitution is a document that its founders knew would be changed—not by politicians through the parliamentary process, but by the will of the people through a referendum. The 2023 Voice referendum is a crucial opportunity for Australians to tell parliamentarians that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should not be forgotten or unheard citizens of Australia.

We will vote yes to recognise past injustices, to acknowledge our shared history, to end the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from Australia’s constitution, to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about matters affecting their communities, and to commit to continuing to work towards outcomes that make a practical difference with concrete results.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart

Our position in support of the Voice stems from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was issued after First Nations-led deliberative discussions with constituent communities across the country in 2017. It was the largest and most extensive consultation process in First Nations history, and possibly Australian history, and was designed and coordinated by First Nations people for First Nations people.

The Uluru Statement established a call for Voice, Treaty and Truth. 

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation to the Australian people from First Nations Australians. It asks Australians to walk together to build a better future by establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution, and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission for the purpose of treaty making and truth-telling.

The Statement recognised a consensus among First Nations communities about what kind of constitutional recognition might answer a long history of calls by First Nations peoples for a say in the law and policy that applies to and has so often disadvantaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. 

We encourage all Australians to inform themselves about the steps leading up to the Statement from the Heart and the call for the Voice, listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait voices, to read The Statement from the Heart, and to accept this invitation from First Nations people. 

Why we support the Voice

The upcoming referendum on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament is a profound moment of importance in history, and asks us to make a crucial decision, to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution.

Mindful of the importance of this decision, the Discipline of History at the University of Sydney joins with so many others in supporting the Voice, including the National Centre for Cultural Competence (NCCC) the History Council of NSW, the Australian Historical Association, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and a host of land-based First Nations bodies and peak-service organisations. 

Indeed, we support the Voice in the understanding that polling confirms the Voice continues to receive overwhelming Indigenous support. Two polls from 2023 confirm that 80% and 83% of Indigenous people support the Voice.

In doing so, the Discipline of History acknowledges and condemns the long history of past wrongs and injustices committed against First Nations people: the invasion and seizure of land without treaty, compensation, or consent; unlawful conflicts and massacres of innocent people; the separation of families and stolen generations; the denial of basic human rights to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and the past and ongoing destruction of First Nations cultures.

We also recognise that these past wrongs and injustices continue into the present day, and that First Nations communities and individuals continue to struggle against overt and systemic racism and structural discrimination, as well as extreme disadvantage. 

We acknowledge that a Voice in the Constitution will not be a panacea and will not absolve us from continuing to support First Nations peoples’ self-determination. Nor does a Voice preclude the need for Treaty, or Treaties. We also recognise the concerns of many Indigenous critics of the Voice that it does not go far enough in addressing the many injustices past and present. There is still lots of work to be done even after a referendum is passed. And we abhor all efforts to silence debate and discussion about the Voice, particularly those that are racially-motivated.

But, with the NCCC, we hope that the Voice will be a new starting point: “It will provide a mechanism for First Nations people to give advice to the Federal Parliament, to have appropriate input into laws and policies which affect their communities. It will change the relationship between government and communities and how real and practical change is created and delivered.”

We see the Voice as an important step in a new era that includes Treaty and Truth as well. Despite the extreme disadvantages that First Nations continue to suffer, we recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures remain strong and are vital repositories of deep knowledge about our shared history, and about how to care for Country and for each other. As settlers living on unceded Aboriginal lands, we are committed to listening closely and doing all we can to support the telling of historical and contemporary truths.

We believe it is vitally important to support a yes vote in the upcoming referendum “to honour and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their rightful place as the First Peoples of this land.” (NCCC)

We, the undersigned members of the Discipline of History at the University of Sydney thus support the Voice to Parliament to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution and encourage all colleagues and students, and all those who value learning from the past, to do so as well.

* The NCCC has created a webpage intended to be a hub to help you find resources that will assist you in understanding the issues and to make your own decision. As has the University of Sydney. The University of Sydney Faculty of Law has also produced an excellent video explaining the history beyond the Voice, and what it will mean in practical terms. You can also listen to a conversation between Dr. Nick Eckstein and Emeritus Professor Mark McKenna about the history behind the Voice in a new podcast series on “Making Sense of History.” You can find it on Spotify, Transistor, or Amazon Music.

Signatories

Professor Michael A. McDonnell, Chair, History

Dr. Niro Kandasamy

Dr. Roberto Chauca

Dr. Marco Duranti

Professor Julia Horne

Professor Kirsten McKenzie, Chair in Australian History

Associate Professor Cindy McCreery

Associate Professor Nicholas Eckstein

Emeritus Professor Mark McKenna

Dr. James Findlay

Dr. Jess Melvin

Dr. Hélène Sirantoine

Associate Professor Frances Clarke

Dr John Gagné

Sophia Werner

Angelina Gu

Annalise Doyle

Marisa Austin

Matthew Sullivan

Kristian Marijanovic

Rose Gilliatt

Anneka Sach

Xavier Uhlmann

Mark Pigot

Alana Lavery

Dr. Kim Kemmis

Emeritus Professor Penny Russell

Alan Atkinson

Roy MacLeod, OAM, PhD, DLitt

Emeritus Professor Ann Curthoys

Richard White

Thomas J Adams

Prof. Emeritus Robert Aldrich

Dr Jane Morlet Hardie

Judith Keene

Jacqui Newling

Jasmine Donnelly

Sophia Semmler

Xavier Watkins

Elizabeth Bowmee

Annaliese McGuirk

HT Chan

Ellis Birrer

Ella Walsh

Krista Church-Young

Imogen Ladmore

Ivan Chen

Youran Xu

Alison Betts

Thomas Cafe

Ella McGrath

Professor Keith Dobney

Melissa Kennedy

Jack Story

Andrew Wilson

Grace Mitchell

Professor James Martin

Luke Norton

Nicole Cipoletti

Dr Deirdre O’Connell

Tahlia Arnold

Luke Cass

Charlotte Feakins

Julien Klettenberg

Angela McLoughlin

Alexa Appel

Peter Brownlee

Skye Dannaher

Dr Darren Smith

Andrew Wilson

Glenda Sluy

Joanna Molloy

Timothy Jackson

Will Shanahan

James H. Collins II

Caitlyn Salter

Professor Monika Bednarek

Jake Davies

Shauna Phillips

Benjamin McGrory

Prof Hugh Harley

Helen Proctor

Lawrence Ashford

Professor Adrian Vickers

Natali Pearson

Clair sole 

Sarah Gleeson-White

Professor Annie Clarke

James Dunk

Dr Mareese Terare

Susan Thomas

Emily Simmons

Leanne Stevenson

Laura Heron

Charlotte Carney

Melissa Hardie

Susan Orlovich

Olivia Karaolis

Ann Elias

Dr. Matthew Sussman

Associate Professor Antonia Rubino

Dr. Paul Riser

Miikskimmiato’si (GERALD MCMASTER) 

Margaret Van Heekeren

Professor Nicole Mockler

Nikki Whipps

Dr Sam Shpall 

Fiona R. Martin

Cathie Burgess

Rosemary Whitecross

Ryan Mouthaan

Olaf Werder

Dr. Yeow-Tong Chia

A/Prof Avril Alba

Peter Adams

Raewyn Connell

Victoria Sweeney

Elizabeth Kwok

Elizabeth Connor

Lachlan Griffiths

Frank Stilwell

Dr. Lynne Swarts

Professor Emerita Suzanne Rutland

Warwick Anderson

Eirini Cox

Dr Isabelle Hesse

Zoe Yiannakis

Dominic Hearne

Huw Griffiths

Georgia Peters

Suzanne Pope

Dr Caitlin Biddolph

Dr. Lucas Thompson

Dr Claire Golledge

Angela Collins

Jen Peden

Amy Griffiths

Susan Heward-Belle 

Maryanne Large

Dr Greta Werner

Kim Bell-Anderson

Meaghan Morris

Ruth Phillips

Camilla Pilgrim

Patrick O’Mara

Shane White

Dr Marama Whyte

Pamela Maddock

Lynette Olson

Brigid Rooney

Dr Yvette Debergue

 Cheryl O’Byrne

Alexandra García

Margaret Cassidy

Minglu Chen

John Mikler

Josiah Hill

3 thoughts on “History and the Voice”

  1. So proud of my colleagues at the University of Sydney who have had the courage to publicly stand up for Indigenous people!

  2. Thank you for this statement. I’ll be voting yes too. I want to live in a country that recognises 65,000 years of Indigenous culture in our constitution. Listening through a Voice has real potential to create a better future, and certainly the balance of evidence supports it as the new way forward.
    Dr. Claire Goldsbury

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