2023 | Volume 24 | Issue 4

Author: Professor Kelvin Kong

The upcoming referendum on the Indigenous voice presents a pivotal moment for our nation. By acknowledging and empowering the voices of Indigenous peoples, we can help rectify historical injustices and foster a more inclusive and equitable society. It was without hesitation that I was able to brief the RACS Council on the referendum and potential issues raised for our organisation. I wanted to articulate key arguments in support of the 'yes' vote for the referendum, while simultaneously dispelling common myths that may undermine its significance.

The Indigenous Voice to Parliament, officially the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice and also known as the Voice to Parliament or The Voice, is a proposed federal advisory body in Australia. It is to comprise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with a constitutional amendment proposing its role to advise parliament and the Australian government on Indigenous affairs. The referendum is planned for late 2023.

RACS has a proud strong history of advocacy in many areas for the betterment of community and at times not directly related to the operating room. The most notable advocacy was on the use of the seat belt. On a similar note, RACS made a strong commitment to improving Indigenous health outcomes in Australia, noting the relationship to surgical health.

The importance of correcting the health disparity, has seen the RACS 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 indirectly we, as a medical specialist’s College, have the ability to support.

In the fast-paced world of surgical medicine, surgeons possess a unique skill set and a deep understanding of the importance of evidence-based decision-making. As the country faces a crucial referendum on the Voice to Parliament, surgeons should seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support positive change. By sourcing reputable information, engaging in respectful conversation, and dispelling concerns about woke culture, surgeons can play a vital role in shaping Australia's future.

As trusted professionals, surgeons are aware of the importance of evidence-based information. In order to make an informed decision regarding the Voice to Parliament, it is crucial to source reliable, unbiased information by seeking out respected research institutions, credible news sources, and expert analysis. By relying on fact-checked data and avoiding misinformation, surgeons can contribute to a well-informed public discourse surrounding this referendum.

Respectful conversation must be the foundation of our discussions. As surgeons, we are constantly tested on our communication skills—honed through years of patient interactions and collaborative work environments. It is essential to apply these skills to engage in respectful conversations about the Voice to Parliament. Constructive dialogue allows us to listen to different perspectives and exchange ideas, fostering an environment of inclusivity and understanding. By approaching discussions with empathy and respect, surgeons can encourage others to do the same, leading to a more meaningful and productive debate.

The opportunity to shape the future of Australia comes rarely, and the Voice to Parliament referendum offers just that. Surgeons have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of excellence and improving the wellbeing of others. By actively participating in this referendum, surgeons can extend their commitment beyond the operating room, making a lasting impact on the country's democratic landscape. Embrace this unique occasion to be part of Australia's history and contribute to a fairer and more inclusive society.

A common point of pride for surgeons, is not walking away from patient advocacy. It is not uncommon to hear of great stories of robust conversations advocating for justice for the betterment of our patients and society. I say this as, some may argue that supporting the Voice to Parliament aligns with ’woke culture,’ a term often used to dismiss progressive ideas. However, it is important to recognise that this referendum is not about ideology or political correctness. It is about giving Indigenous Australians a constitutionally enshrined voice in decision-making processes that affect their lives. This is not about being ‘woke’; it is about rectifying historical injustices and ensuring equal representation for all Australians.

Supporting the Voice to Parliament is crucial for Australia's future and we have the opportunity to make a difference by supporting the referendum. It is an opportunity to reconcile historical grievances and create a more harmonious society. By empowering Indigenous Australians to have a direct say in matters that affect them, we can forge stronger connections between communities, address systemic issues, and work towards a more inclusive nation. Surgeons—as respected professionals—can contribute their expertise to this transformative process and help build a fairer Australia for future generations. Together, we can create a brighter future for all Australians, just by saying yes.


The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) proudly 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.

The College relies on guidance from the RACS Indigenous Health Committee and supports the stance of Mina, a staunch advocate for the Voice to Parliament referendum.

We have developed and linked some resources to this article as well as to our RACS website for ease of reference.

Professor Kelvin Kong, a proud Worimi man, is a RACS Fellow and the first Indigenous surgeon in Australia. He specialises in Paediatric and Adult Otorhinolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery (Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery) and works in Newcastle, New South Wales.