The Indigenous Voice to Parliament and the role of Philanthropy

This page provides you with information about the referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, as well as guidance regarding the role of philanthropy during this process.


Upon the election of Federal Labor Government in May 2022, incoming Prime Minister Albanese indicated that the full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart was a key priority in the Government’s agenda.  

The Prime Minister indicated that the Government would proceed with a referendum for Australians to decide whether to change the Australian Constitution to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Parliament.  

A constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament is a key element of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Released in 2017, the Uluru Statement from the Heart is the largest consensus of First Nations peoples on a proposal for substantive recognition in Australian history. It calls for Voice, Treaty and Truth: 

  • Voice: Enshrining a First Nations voice in the Australian Constitution 
  • Makarrata: The coming together after a struggle to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history 

Constitutional recognition through a Voice to Parliament envisages a body enshrined in the Constitution that would enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People to provide advice to Federal Parliament on policies and legal decisions that impact their lives. The Voice would be an independent, representative advisory body for First Nations people.  

The Hon Linda Burney MP, Minister for Indigenous Australians, has been charged with implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including responsibility for the referendum to establish a First Nations Voice to Parliament. Minister Burney, a member of the Wiradjuri Nation, is assisted by Labor Senator and Yawuru man Pat Dodson who has been named Special Envoy for Implementation of the Uluru Statement for the Heart. 

At the Garma Festival on 30 July 2022, Prime Minister Albanese proposed, as a starting point, that consideration be given to adding three sentences to the Constitution, in recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the First Peoples of Australia: 

  1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice 
  1. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to Parliament and the Executive Government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. 
  1. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have the power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers, and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice 

The Prime Minister indicated that these three sentences were draft sentences only that could be adjusted prior to the finalisation of the Referendum proposal.  

A set of principles that describe how the Voice will work was agreed to by the First Nations Referendum Working Group. 

The Voice will be 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. 

Philanthropy’s role in the referendum 

The Federal Government has indicated it will not be providing funding for either the Yes or No campaigns associated with the referendum. In light of this decision, Philanthropy will play a critical role in educating the public and influencing whether the referendum is passed.

A number of philanthropies have already stepped in to support campaigns by providing grants, utilising influence and networks and sharing information.  

Philanthropy Australia 

As the referendum draws nearer, Philanthropy Australia will continue to create opportunities for our members to convene and learn more about the Referendum process. Please stay tuned for stories and event information via Philanthropy Weekly and our socials.  

In 2019, Philanthropy Australia coordinated an Open Letter from Philanthropy published in the Australian Financial Review. 62 individual philanthropists and philanthropic foundations expressed support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and for the establishment of a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Australian Constitution, and for a Makarrata Commission (Treaty).  

Since the letter was published, additional members of Philanthropy Australia have added their names in support of the Open Letter. You can read the letter and add your name as a signatory here.  

Philanthropy Australia also operates the First Nations Funders Peer Network which is open to members of Philanthropy Australia. 

Useful resources 

Philanthropy Australia respects that there will be a variety of views on nationally significant issues amongst our diverse membership. Our role is to provide members with the information they need to make informed decisions. To that end, we have provided links below for both the Yes and No campaigns.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, Australian Government – the latest updates about the Voice to Parliament and referendum 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s 2022 Address to Garma Festival – outlines the government’s plans to hold a referendum for Australians to decide on a Voice to Parliament in 2023 

Reconciliation Australia – information regarding the Voice to Parliament 

Senator Patrick Dodson in conversation with Jack Heath

Learn more about the referendum process via this excellent digital learning resource from The Uluru Statement and From the Heart.

ACNC says charities can make a valuable contribution to conversations on the Voice referendum

The yes campaign:

Uphold and Recognise
Recognise A Better Way