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.
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
Dr. Kim Kemmis
Emeritus Professor Penny Russell
Roy MacLeod, OAM, PhD, DLitt
Emeritus Professor Ann Curthoys
Thomas J Adams
Prof. Emeritus Robert Aldrich
Dr Jane Morlet Hardie
Professor Keith Dobney
Professor James Martin
Dr Deirdre O’Connell
Dr Darren Smith
James H. Collins II
Professor Monika Bednarek
Prof Hugh Harley
Professor Adrian Vickers
Professor Annie Clarke
Dr Mareese Terare
Dr. Matthew Sussman
Associate Professor Antonia Rubino
Dr. Paul Riser
Miikskimmiato’si (GERALD MCMASTER)
Margaret Van Heekeren
Professor Nicole Mockler
Dr Sam Shpall
Fiona R. Martin
Dr. Yeow-Tong Chia
A/Prof Avril Alba
Dr. Lynne Swarts
Professor Emerita Suzanne Rutland
Dr Isabelle Hesse
Dr Caitlin Biddolph
Dr. Lucas Thompson
Dr Claire Golledge
Dr Greta Werner
Dr Marama Whyte
Dr Yvette Debergue