More than 70 constitutional and public law teachers have signed a letter saying the Voice to Parliament “is not constitutionally risky” in a bid to tackle “misunderstandings and misconceptions” among Australian voters.

Key points:

  • 71 constitutional and law teachers sign an open letter about the Voice to Parliament
  • The letter says the “vast majority” of legal opinion agrees the proposed amendment “is not constitutionally risky”
  • The experts do not hold a collective position on the Voice but say they want to help people make an “informed choice”

The 71 teachers and professors say in the open letter that they are not advocating for a position on the Voice, but wish to provide voters with more information.

“We are public and constitutional law teachers from universities all over Australia with experience teaching law students about the constitution and referendums,” the letter says.

“We write this letter in the spirit that we approach our teaching.

“Not as advocacy for a particular position, but to clarify some of the issues that are causing confusion about the proposed constitutional change, to help Australians sift through what they are reading and hearing, and to assist them to make an informed choice at the upcoming referendum.”

The letter says that the No campaign has argued that the Voice would lead to “dysfunction and delays” in government but that would not necessarily be the case.

“Certainly, it is impossible to predict exactly what the High Court might say in the future — this is the case for all constitutional and legal provisions,” the letter says.

“But we know that the vast majority of expert legal opinion agrees that this amendment is not constitutionally risky.” 

The letter also says a Voice to Parliament would not “introduce” a racial divide, as has been suggested by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.

“The framers [of the constitution] included the concept of ‘race’ within the constitution, as they intended for the new Commonwealth parliament to be able to pass laws that discriminated against people on the basis of race,” the professors write.

“As such, whether or not we agree that the constitution should continue to embed this concept, it is wrong to frame the Voice as introducing a racial divide into the constitution.

“The racial divide has always been there.”

The letter also states that the Voice is not based on “the outdated concept of race”, but “through recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ place as Australia’s first peoples”.


‘Misunderstandings and misconceptions’

La Trobe University learning and teaching associate dean Madelaine Chiam said she co-wrote the letter after observing “incorrect” information informing the Voice to Parliament public discussion.

“As a public and constitutional law teacher, I have been noticing that the public debate has been influenced by misunderstandings and misconceptions about the way that our constitutional system works,” Dr Chiam said.

“And those misunderstandings and misconceptions are contributing to incorrect and sometimes erroneous views about the Voice to Parliament and how it would work and the sorts of powers that it would have.”

She said the letter was an attempt to encourage the Australian public to use techniques she has taught her own law students. 

“There are a number of skills we teach law students, but the two key ones are to encourage Australian voters to think about who is giving the opinion, and the evidence they are using,” Dr Chiam said.

“In law, it really matters who the author of the opinion is, such as, ‘Are they an expert who’s worked a long time in the field?’.”

Dr Chiam said she hoped Australian voters would seek out “reliable” information as a result of this letter.

“Our hope is the people who either aren’t decided or who are confused about the contradictory information will read our letter, take a step back and just have a think about where they’re getting their information,” she said.

“And if after thinking about who has written the information and the evidence they’re using, we’re really hoping they will go out and seek some of the many sources available online that are reliable.”

Dr Chiam also encouraged voters to find a professor who has signed the letter and lives in their state, and contact them directly with further questions.

University of NSW law and justice professor Gabrielle Appleby, who also co-wrote the letter, said it was important its signatories had a variety of experience in constitutional law.

University of New South Wales law and justice professor Gabrielle Appleby said the letter reflects the opinion of law experts across the country.(Supplied: Gabrielle Appleby)

“This letter reflects public law academics and teachers from across the country, from all states and territories,” she said.

“But it also reflects people who teach public law subjects, constitutional law, administrative law, from different areas of research experience and expertise.

“It was really important to bring this quite varied and diverse group together, and to come together on messages that we all share and support because we all teach public law and constitutional history.” 

Get local news, stories, community events, recipes and more each week.


If you’re unable to load the form, you can access it here.

Posted , updated