Council statement on the Voice to Parliament
Published on 28 June 2023
On Tuesday, 27 June, Councillors voted to formally release a position on a Voice to Parliament, in recognition of the large Indigenous community that calls Yarra Ranges home and Council’s commitment to reconciliation.
Council’s position is that we support a Voice to Parliament and the notion behind the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in line with Yarra Ranges Council’s Reconciliation Policy, our historical and current support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and with the backing of advice from its Indigenous Advisory Committee.
While Yarra Ranges Council fully supports the notion behind both the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a Voice to Parliament, we encourage the community to seek information from reputable channels on the issue to form their vote in this year’s referendum.
Council acknowledges that it is not the role of Local Government to tell people how to vote in the referendum. Its position on the referendum is not a directive to the community to vote one way or another.
Lyster Ward Councillor, and one of Council’s representatives on the Indigenous Advisory Committee, Johanna Skelton, said Council’s position reflected a long history of working towards Reconciliation.
“Yarra Ranges is home to one of the largest populations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in eastern metropolitan Melbourne. We have extensive history in our region, with places such as Coranderrk, and have a significant responsibility to listen to and work with our First Nations community members,” she said.
“Yarra Ranges was the first Council in Australia to formally apologise to the Stolen Generations in 1997, and through our Indigenous Development Team and our Indigenous Advisory Committee, we seek to involve Indigenous People in the work we do – especially when it impacts them.
“Council’s IAC’s advice to Council, summarised in the Council Meeting Agenda, is that the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a Voice to Parliament will support the Yarra Ranges’ Indigenous communities, Indigenous staff, build on our long-standing history to progress Reconciliation and fulfil our social and emotional responsibility in having a clear stance on the referendum.
“The Committee provides feedback, grounded in expertise and lived experience, on Council documents, strategies and programs, to ensure that the perspectives of First Nations people are considered. It has worked incredibly well for us at Council, and I hope this concept is taken on by the community and our other levels of Government.
“Having this stance is not Council telling our community how they should vote, but outlines the feedback we’ve received and how it aligns with our work over more than nearly four decades.”
Cr Skelton said that, no matter their stance, community members should seek information from reputable channels and be aware of the emotional impacts of this referendum for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members.
“Unfortunately, there has already been significant misinformation and disrespect shown on this issue – and a reliance on Indigenous community members to explain, justify or defend a Federal Government proposal,” she said.
“You can easily find the perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that have already been made available. As a non-Indigenous person I do not expect free and constant responses from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends and strangers about this. I have seen many hurtful, untrue and damaging comments made already.
“If you want facts about what The Voice is and how it will work, go to the AEC website, or pick up their print outs from your local Library, for accurate information. If you want opinions, then do the work yourself and I encourage you to consider what has been provided to us all by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Council’s Reconciliation policy outlines a clear vision for the future:
A pathway to healing the past and moving towards a future of respect, caring and sharing with all cultures living in harmony for a united community that recognises the special place and culture of Indigenous peoples as first Australians, values their participation and provides equal life chances for all.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for Government to listen to the voices of Indigenous people, to help close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.
Evidence demonstrates that Governments have, to date, failed in their attempts to bridge this gap.
A Voice to Parliament is aimed at achieving effective policies and laws that will make a real difference on the ground, and reduce the inequity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Visit aec.gov.au/referendums, ulurustatement.org/the-statement or the Federal Government's National Indigenous Australians Agency for information on this issue, and always check information has come from a reputable source.
Frequently asked questions
What is the Voice to Parliament?
The Voice to Parliament referendum will ask voters whether or not the Constitution should be altered to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
The Voice will make representations to Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
(Sources: AEC, Australian Parliament House)
What would the Voice do?
According to the Federal Government’s National Indigenous Australians Agency, the Voice, if supported in the referendum, would give independent advice to the Parliament and Government.
It would be the representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, would have gender balance and include young people.
It would be community-led, inclusive, respectful and culturally informed, accountable and transparent, working alongside existing organisations.
It would not deliver programs or have any veto power over legislation or the work of Government.
The principles of the Voice were developed by the First Nations Referendum Working Group and endorsed by the Australian Government ahead of the referendum.
We strongly recommend visiting the National Indigenous Australians Agency for more information on this issue, and other questions regarding how the proposed Voice would operate.
Does Council have a position on the referendum?
Our position as a Council is that we support the notion behind the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a Voice to Parliament.
This position is in line with our Reconciliation Policy, our historical and current support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the backing advice of our Indigenous Advisory Committee.
However, a key point of our position is that we do not believe it is the role of Local Government to tell the community how to vote in the upcoming referendum. We are not directing the community to vote one way or another, only to ensure that they find objective sources of information – such as from the Australian Electoral commission – and that they are respectful, open-minded and kind in conversations with others.
This position has been reached using advice from our Indigenous Advisory Committee, and building on four decades of work with our Indigenous community.
Yarra Ranges was the first tier of government in Australia to formally apologise to the Stolen Generations in 1997. Through our Indigenous Development Team and our Indigenous Advisory Committee, we seek to involve Indigenous people in the work we do, especially when it impacts them.
The advice we have received, summarised in the 27 June Council meeting agenda, is that the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a Voice to Parliament will support our Indigenous communities and staff, and fulfil our social and emotional responsibility in having a clear stance on the referendum.
Why is Council getting involved at all?
There is significant discussion and debate on this issue, particularly on social media. The commentary, which is already generating misinformation, disrespectful commentary and hurtful behaviour, is negatively impacting the Indigenous community, Indigenous staff and the broader community across Australia.
The advice we have received as Council from our Indigenous Advisory Committee is that, staying silent on such a significant manner is seen as an endorsement of negative rhetoric.
By having a clear stance – outlining how a Voice to Parliament aligns with the work done to date between Council, its Indigenous Advisory Committee and the wider Indigenous community, while emphasising that our support is not a directive to vote, we can provide local context on the issue, in the hope it generates respectful discussions in our community about the proposal.
While it is not our role to tell people how to vote in the referendum, we have a long-standing history of walking with the Indigenous community and we have a long-standing, demonstrated, social commitment to Reconciliation. Part of that commitment is supporting factual information and discouraging misinformation and hurtful commentary.
Where can I go for more information on the referendum?
You should always check the sources of your information about the referendum to make sure you’re getting it from a factual source.
The Australian Electoral Commission website has very clear information on how the referendum will work and how to spot misinformation. Visit AEC.gov.au for more information.
The Federal Government’s National Indigenous Australians Agency has information about the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and how the proposal would work, with clear information on what is being proposed, and what is not being proposed.
You can also find more information at the Uluru Statement website.