Toolkit: How to advocate for the Voice to Parliament at work

*Update: On 14th October 2023, Australians voted in a referendum about whether to change the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. It was the first referendum of the 21st century. The referendum did not pass. We are committed to continuing the work of seeking justice and advocating for the rights of our First Nations communities.

The WfC Editors
August 30, 2023
10 min read
voice-to-parliament-toolkit

About this resource

The purpose of this toolkit is to provide Australian employees of companies from all sectors and of all sizes with knowledge about the upcoming referendum on adding an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to the Australian Constitution.

WorkforClimate supports the 'yes' campaign and this toolkit is one of the ways we are taking action for the referendum to be successful. 

Contents

  • What is the Voice to Parliament?
  • Why advocate for the Voice at work
  • How to advocate for the Voice at work
  • Handling objections
  • Resources
  • Organisations showing support for the Voice
  • The Uluru statement from the heart

What is the Voice to Parliament?

In late 2023, Australia will hold a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

According to the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), the government body leading preparation for the referendum: 

“The Voice will be an independent, representative advisory body for First Nations people. It will provide a permanent means to advise the Australian Parliament and Government on the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on matters that affect them…

The Voice is a body that will:

  • provide independent advice to Parliament and Government
  • be chosen by First Nations people based on the wishes of local communities
  • be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • be empowering, community led, inclusive, respectful, culturally informed and gender balanced, and include youth
  • be accountable and transparent
  • work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures.

The Voice will not have a program delivery function, or a veto power. The structure and role of the Voice would be decided by Parliament through legislation, with members to be chosen by First Nations people. The referendum is part of the Government's commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart.”

On 19 June 2023, Parliament agreed the referendum question would be as follows:

“A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?”

Voters will be asked to write 'yes' or 'no' on this single question.

Why advocate for the Voice at work

The Voice to Parliament is one of the most important decisions Australians are being asked to make this decade. It is a historic moment for Australia. 

Many people are still undecided, and could be persuaded either way based on the messages they hear most from people/sources they deem credible. Conversations are happening at home already, and there is an opportunity to amplify the impact of these exchanges by also having them in the workplace. 

Many companies are leaning into this important moment and publicly supporting the Voice, including a majority of ASX Top 20 companies. For those companies that haven’t yet taken an official position on the Voice, there is an opportunity for employees to raise their voice and ask their leaders to consider adding their support to the campaign, or at the very least enabling meaningful conversations about the topic. 

Despite being custodians of this land for tens of thousands of years, First Nations communities are at the forefront of climate change impacts and often face land, water and culture violations in relation to fossil fuel extraction. 

These issues are intrinsically linked. There is no climate justice without First Nations justice. 

At WorkforClimate, one of the key pillars of our work is Advocacy; we help employees of companies raise their collective voice to support pro-climate policy. We can use the same approach for the Voice campaign. 

Our objective is to raise awareness and understanding of the Voice – what it does and doesn’t enable – to help people make informed voting decisions

Read WorkforClimate’s official letter of support for the Voice referendum

How to advocate for the Voice at work

Here are some ways you can engage on the Voice at your workplace: 

1. Make it easy for colleagues to learn about the Voice

This is more about providing facts and educating people about the referendum process, so voting choices are not based on misinformation and hypotheticals. You want to encourage everyone to educate themselves on the issue and participate in the referendum. 

For example, you can: 

It’s likely you'll need to get approval from HR to do the above. 

2. Create a space for meaningful conversations at work

It should be possible for respectful, curious, thoughtful conversations to happen at the workplace about the Voice (along with other important societal issues). 

For example, you can: 

  • Create a Slack/messaging channel for discussion and information sharing.  
  • Ask your company to organise a town hall to discuss the Voice. Company town halls are a great opportunity to hear information without strong messages being pushed. 
  • Organise an event. Beyond the town hall, you can organise events for people to either learn more about the Voice, or discuss the topic in meaningful ways. 
If you’re looking to host an in-person event in support of the Voice and Uluru statement, and you can gather 50+ people, you can check out the Walking together project, which offers educational workshops and training using the Uluru Statement from the Heart as the framework. 

3. Ask your company to release an official statement of support for the Voice

This is the bigger “ask”. Of course, not all companies will be willing to officially endorse the Voice to Parliament, for various reasons. If you feel your company is “sitting on the fence” and needs a small push to take a position, this could be achieved by demonstrating strong employee support.

For this ask, C-suite leadership is essential. It may be helpful to run an employee survey to determine if a majority of employees personally support the Voice. 

It might also be helpful to point to other companies in your sector, or companies that are aligned with yours, that are already showing their support. 

The Directors for the Voice initiative invites company directors to publicly declare their support for the Voice. You can ask your company directors and board to join here.  

Directors for the Voice campaign material

Handling objections

As you start speaking up about the Voice and the need to bring this conversation into the workplace, you will most likely encounter objections. We’ve listed some below along with talking points to consider. 

The following objections are not about the Voice itself, or the Yes campaign. For a comprehensive objection handling guide on the Voice itself, you can refer to this resource created by Australian Unions. 

Objection #1: We don’t get involved in politics 

Possible approaches: 

  • There is a growing expectation from businesses to respond to important societal issues, and there are many benefits for businesses who choose to do so, including attracting customers and partners who share the same vision. 
  • Business is an integral part of Australian society. It doesn’t sit on the sidelines; it actively contributes to the economic strength, resilience and social cohesiveness of our nation. (Source: Business has a legitimate stake in the Voice debate
  • The President of the Business Council of Australia, Tim Reed, talks about the Voice in the Australian Financial Review: “I think business has every right, and not only right, but actually every obligation to be a part of this conversation. To listen and act is the spirit of entrepreneurialism. You research, you understand, you see better ways to do things, and you have a go. That’s at the heart of how businesses serve customers.”
  • Can you think of/leverage other topics where your company has engaged in things that would be considered “political” (for example, LGBTQ+ rights)? Raising this precedent could help bolster your case.

Objection #2: We don’t even have a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)

Possible approaches:

  • A business doesn’t need to be deep into its reconciliation journey to meaningfully support the Voice to Parliament, and not all companies that support the Voice have a RAP in place. What matters is listening, engaging and responding to the Uluru statement from the heart.
  • That said, now may be a great time to create a RAP that outlines a path to progress in this space, including support for the Voice.

Objection #3: We have other advocacy priorities 

Possible approaches:

  • We suggest a “yes, and” approach, which acknowledges that it’s possible to keep working on other important advocacy issues while also demonstrating support for the Voice.
  • This is a critical moment in Australia’s history, and there is a limited window of opportunity for businesses to show up and demonstrate support. As the referendum draws closer, we can advocate for the ‘yes’ vote as a short-term priority using relatively minimal resources, while still focusing on other issues.

Objection #4: We don’t want to antagonise employees/customers

Possible approaches:

  • Similarly to objection #1, this is about businesses showing up authentically and recognising that they have a responsibility to act on social issues they and their employees believe in. 
  • It’s worth noting that some of the biggest corporations in Australia – including Qantas, Woodside, Woolworths, Coles, Lendlease and Wesfarmers – have chosen to support the Voice, sometimes facing backlash from no campaigners and opposition leaders. But if they’re ready to take that risk, perhaps our company should too? 

Resources

We’ve compiled some resources below to help keep you informed on the upcoming referendum. We encourage you to use and share these resources in your own advocacy efforts.

Educational resources

Books: 

Advocacy resources

Organisations showing support for the Voice

ANZ: LinkedIn statement

Bank Australia: Supporting a Voice to Parliament

Commonwealth Bank: Smoking ceremony marks support of reconciliation at CommBank

Koskela: A letter from our founder: Why Koskela is proud to support the Voice

Lendlease: Our position on the Voice and the Ulutu statement of the heart

NAB: NAB calls on businesses to back the Voice

Qantas: Indigenous Voice co-design process

Woodside: Woodside chief backs Voice, but won't promise to follow its advice

More news: 

The Uluru statement from the heart

"We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. 

This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown. How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years? 

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood. 

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness. We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country. 

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution. Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination. 

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history. In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future."

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