Uluru statement architect confident of Indigenous voice success despite Invasion Day calls to vote no
One of the architects of the Uluru statement from the heart, Alyawarre elder Pat Anderson, says she remains confident of a successful yes vote in the referendum on enshrining a voice to parliament in the constitution, despite many speakers at Thursday’s Invasion Day rallies publicly rejecting it.
An Ipsos poll of about 300 Aboriginal and Islander people conducted in the days before Thursday’s rallies showed about 80% were in favour, 10% undecided and 10% firmly voting no.
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Anderson, the Uluru Dialogue co-chair, said she was “buoyed up and confident” that there was still a lot of support around the country from First Nations people and other supporters for the voice.
“But we’ve got a long way to go,” she said. “It’s a very, very active campaign with a lot of opinions.”
What has happened already?
The Albanese government has put forward the question: "Do you support an alteration to the constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice?" The PM also suggested three sentences be added to the constitution:
There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice.
It may make representations to parliament and the executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The parliament shall, subject to this constitution, have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice.
How would it work?
The voice would advise the Australian parliament and government on matters relating to the social, spiritual and economic wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The voice would be able to table formal advice in parliament and a parliamentary committee would consider that advice. But all elements would be non-justiciable, meaning that there could not be a court challenge and no law could be invalidated based on this consultation.
How would it be structured?
The Indigenous voice co-design report recommended the national voice have 24 members, encompassing two from each state, the Northern Territory, ACT and Torres Strait. A further five members would represent remote areas and an additional member would represent Torres Strait Islanders living on the mainland.
Members would serve four-year terms, with half the membership determined every two years.
For more detail, read our explainer here.
Anderson said there was “disinformation and misinformation” given to people at the rallies.
“It was a big megaphone yesterday, and it was used by those people who were organisers for their own purposes,” she said.
Thousands of people attended Invasion Day rallies across Australia on Thursday, where First Nations speakers called for action on deaths in custody, an end to the removal of Aboriginal children and – in many locations – made a case against an Indigenous voice to parliament being enacted before a treaty.
Related: Historic deal struck to begin Victorian treaty negotiations with First Nations groups
Anderson said the Uluru statement does call for a treaty, but a voice should come first. She said the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria was essentially a voice to the Victorian government, set up by traditional owners to negotiate on their behalf.
The assembly will negotiate a statewide treaty which could include improving political representation for First Nations Victorians via a permanent Indigenous decision-making body, or reserved seats for Indigenous representatives, similar to New Zealand’s parliament.
Traditional owners will also be able to enter into separate negotiations with the state.
“They had to set up the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria because you need a body to oversee all of those discussions,” Anderson said. “We still have to decide: are we talking about one treaty? Or are we talking about over 360? There’s a lot of work to do, and we need to do that ourselves.”
Anderson is a member of the Albanese government’s referendum working group and has spent decades working in Aboriginal health in the Northern Territory. She co-authored the Little Children Are Sacred report on the abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory, which was used by the Howard government in 2007 to justify the military intervention in territory communities.
Related: Why a voice to parliament won’t affect First Nations sovereignty as Lidia Thorpe fears
Anderson said she was distressed to hear calls by the federal opposition leader, Peter Dutton, and the Alice Springs mayor, Matt Paterson, to send in the army or federal police to quell social unrest in town, which prompted a rapid visit by the prime minister and new alcohol restrictions.
Aboriginal organisations say they had repeatedly warned all levels of governments that alcohol-related harms would rise if alcohol bans were lifted, but nothing was done.
Anderson said she firmly believed that, if there was a voice, the situation in Alice Springs could have been avoided by forcing governments to listen to what Aboriginal people say they want and need.
“How do you get them to listen? You lock it into the constitution,” she said. “By what our mob call the ‘big law’. They have to follow their own law. That’s why they have to listen because we will have the protection of the constitution, which comes to us from the Australian public, not the politicians.”