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RACS has made a commitment to improving Indigenous health outcomes in Australia and the Voice will provide an avenue to ensure that Indigenous Australians have a genuine voice in the decisions that affect their communities.
RACS has made a strong commitment to improving Indigenous health outcomes in Australia as well as fostering cultural safety and diversity and eliminating racism and other forms of discrimination within the surgical workforce including through our Building Respect and Improving Patient Safety Action Plan, Reconciliation Action Plan and engagement with issues such as the Voice to Parliament.
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) supports the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution through the implementation of the Voice to Parliament.
With a rich history of health advocacy, RACS strongly believes in empowering Indigenous communities by ensuring their significant participation in decisions that impact their lives and futures. We fully endorse the Uluru Statement from the heart and eagerly anticipate a future where Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians unite to foster an equitable and authentic relationship, fostering prosperity and vibrancy for all.
We respect the diverse perspectives held by our individual fellow members and encourage them to seek reliable information to shape their stance on the referendum. We urge everyone to engage in the debate and discussions surrounding this issue with the utmost care and respect it deserves.
RACS relies on guidance from the RACS Indigenous Health Committee and wholeheartedly supports the stance of Mina, a staunch advocate for the Voice to Parliament referendum.
- Listen to Professor Kelvin Kong, a RACS Fellow and a Worimi man talk about the Voice to Parliament. Professor Kong is Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon works in Newcastle on Awabakal Country, specialising in Paediatric and Adult Oto-Rhino-Laryngology, Head & Neck Surgery (Ear, Nose & Throat Surgery). Listen to the podcast here.
- Read this article by Professor Kelvin Kong
- An interview with Professor Kelvin Kong
At RACS, diversity strengthens our profession, enriching it with different perspectives. Diverse surgical teams are more cognitively diverse, which improves problem solving, decision making, innovation, and bias and blind spot mitigation. Diversity helps foster cultural safety among surgeons and improves the care we give our patients.
Cultural diversity increases and improves care to under-served populations and works to reduce inequities in healthcare delivery. It also helps make surgery a more welcoming profession, where surgeons who are Indigenous and First Nations, people of colour, overseas trained and/or LGBTQIA+, feel they belong, are valued in the RACS community and can contribute fully and safely.
The importance of correcting the health disparity has also been recognised by RACS through the development of the tenth competency of “Cultural Competence and Cultural Safety” for our Fellows.
The Voice will provide another avenue to ensure that Indigenous Australians have a genuine voice in the decisions that affect their communities, and we as a medical specialists' College have the ability to support this.
While the RACS Council has chosen to support recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People through the implementation of the Voice to Parliament, we respect the diverse perspectives held by our individual Fellow members and encourage them to seek reliable information to shape their stance on the referendum. We urge everyone to engage in the debate and discussions surrounding this issue with the utmost care and respect it deserves.
Chapter IX Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:
1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
3. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures
The Referendum is currently scheduled for October-November 2023.
The Voice design principles
The Prime Minister of Australia, the Honourable Anthony Albanese MP, also released the principles of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. You can read the detailed design principles here.
In summary, these principles are:
- The Voice will give independent advice to the parliament and government
- The Voice will be chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people based on the wishes of local communities
- The Voice will be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, gender balanced and include youth
- The Voice will be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful and culturally informed
- The Voice will be accountable and transparent
- The Voice will work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures
- The Voice will not have a program delivery function
- The Voice will not have a veto power.
These principles were developed by the First Nations Referendum Working Group and endorsed by the Australian government.
If the proposed law is approved at the referendum, there will be a process with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the parliament, and the broader public to settle the Voice design. Legislation to establish the Voice will then go through standard parliamentary processes to ensure adequate scrutiny by elected representatives in both houses of parliament.
Background to the development of the Voice
On 7 December 2015, a 16-member Referendum Council. In October 2016, the Council released the Discussion Paper on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples which included a call for "An Indigenous voice". The Council then met with over 1,200 people. This led to the First Nations National Constitutional Convention on 26 May 2017, whose delegates collectively composed the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This statement included the request, "We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution."
On 13 June 2017, the Referendum Council released their final report. This included the following recommendation:
That a referendum be held to provide in the Australian Constitution for a representative body that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament. The body will recognise the status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of Australia. In response to this, the federal government established the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in March 2018.
On 23 March 2023, the Prime Minister, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP, announced the constitutional amendment and question that will be put to the Australian people at a referendum later this year. The amendment and question were agreed to by the Referendum Working Group and the government, and will soon be introduced into Parliament through a Constitution Alteration Bill.
RACS commitment to Indigenous Health
RACS Strategic Plan 2022-2024 makes the following commitments:
- Building a Culture of Respect: Championing Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Māori health
- Champion equity in Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Māori healthcare outcomes, delivery and education
- Champion patient centered and sustainable healthcare across the sector
The RACS Values (Service, Respect, Integrity, Compassion, Collaboration), the Position on Indigenous Health and the RAP all support The Voice’s over-arching aim to ensure Indigenous involvement in Commonwealth decision making.
- Australian Electoral Commission Official Yes and No pamphlet
- Uluru Statement from the Heart
- Uluru Statement: a quick guide
- Bill Briefing
- Anderson P, Davis M, Freeman T, Baum F. A constitutional Voice in parliament would improve the health of Aboriginal Australians. BMJ. 2023 Aug 9;p1828.
- Reconciliation Australia
- Support Act
- Recognition through a Voice (Australian Government)
- Monash University Speaker Series
- Deakin - Yes
- The case for voting Yes - Distributed by the AEC and authorised by a majority of the members of Parliament who voted for the proposed change to the Constitution.
- Yes23 - Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition
- Diversity Council of Australia
- Deakin - No
- Recognise a Better Way
- Fair Australia
- Uphold and Recognise
- Who is running the Voice to Parliament No campaigns?
- The case for voting No - Distributed by the AEC and authorised by a majority of the members of Parliament who voted against the proposed change to the Constitution.
- The Voice to Parliament Handbook – Thomas Mayo, Kerry O’Brien, Cathy Wilcox
- On the Voice to Parliament – Charles Prouse
- A first Nations Voice in the Australian Constitution – Shireen Morris
- The Indigenous Voice to Parliament? The No Case – Peter O’Brien, David Flint
- Beyond Belief. Rethinking the Voice to Parliament - Edited by Peter Kurti and Nyunggai Warren Mundine
- Everything you need to know about the Voice – Megan Davis, George Williams
- Quarterly Essay 90 – Voice of Reason on Recognition and Renewal – Megan Davis
- University of Melbourne – Voice Facts
- Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023
As passed by Houses of Parliament
- Explanatory memoranda
Explanatory memoranda to accompany the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023 (Bill)
- AEC disinformation register - referendum process
A list of prominent pieces of disinformation the AEC has discovered regarding the announced referendum on the Voice to Parliament
- Constitutional referendums in Australia: a quick guide
A guide explaining referendums in Australia, produced by the Parliamentary Library
- Referendums - it's been a while
Information about the Constitution, referendums and voting, provided by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)