Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the preamble was put to a referendum in 1999.
The Constitution Alteration (Preamble) 1999 proposed a whole new preamble which included that the Australian people commit to ‘honouring Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation’s first people, for their deep kinship with their lands and for their ancient and continuing cultures which enrich the life of our country’.
The Referendum was overwhelmingly defeated [61% said NO].
This was a modest proposal for recognition in the preamble of the Constitution compared to the current Voice referendum. The 1999 Referendum sought to include recognition – the Voice proposal is far more than recognition and seeks to add a racially specific representative body to our democratic parliamentary processes.
The Labor party opposed the preamble.
There was a pamphlet produced for the YES and the NO case. Completely contrary to the process for the current Voice referendum. In the 1999 Referendum there was public debate and discussion about the referendum. Both sides received equal funding and a Yes/No Case pamphlet was never disputed. Open, transparent and informed. The exact opposite has been occurring with the Voice campaign.
Labor stated for the NO case:
- “If the lawyers can’t agree, how can we vote for this rushed and flawed Preamble.
- The proposed Preamble will divide and alienate, not unite Australians.
Let me reiterate, the intention of the 1999 referendum was to propose a preamble and not a new chapter or a race-based representative body to the Parliament and executive. The legal community currently has significantly more disagreements on the implications of the Voice’s Constitutional amendment than they did on the wording of the 1999 preamble, which was relatively harmless. This referendum has created serious division in our country and is promoting racism. The Voice is racist by design and undemocratic – Australian citizens should not vote for it as it will fuel further racist division. If the Voice succeeds it will divide the nation on the basis of race and entrench the politics of identity in our liberal democratic constitution.
In the 1967 Referendum, the YES case had bi-partisan support and the YES vote received 91% of nation’s vote for a proposal that was removing RACE from the Constitution. This Voice proposal is absurdly putting race back in the Constitution.
A preamble does not have direct legal effect or give rise to substantive rights and obligations but may be used as an aid to interpretation or to resolve ambiguities. To remove any doubt, in 1999 the proposal of amending the preamble included the insertion of a new section, section 125A, into the Constitution to make it clear that the preamble has no legal effect and shall not be used to interpret the Constitution or any laws of the Commonwealth.
The stated purpose of the Voice is to have significant power. The fact that it cannot be removed by Australians, in a democracy, is extremely concerning. We do not yet fully understand the extent of this power and how it may be used against Australians citizens over the coming future decades and centuries.
Labor’s current proposed change to Constitution for a Voice is completely contradictory to the stance it made in 1999 Referendum even though this current proposal brings with it far more legal and political uncertainty.