Two powerful themes surfaced prominently in a recent Women on Boards (WOB) member survey* concerning the impending Referendum on constitutional change. Firstly, respondents understand the significance of the Referendum and are understandably passionate about the decisions we are being asked to make. Secondly, many believe strongly that it is a personal decision in which individuals should look to their own conscience and beliefs in deciding how to vote, and not be influenced by businesses, government, or other institutions.
In alignment with these themes, the WOB Board has therefore consciously chosen not to advocate a public Yes or No position on the upcoming Australian Referendum regarding a First Nations Voice to Parliament.
As a unique and diverse membership organisation comprising both current and aspiring Board members from across all sectors and those who support women to achieve board roles, the WOB Board knows it cannot presume to speak on behalf of all members in this Referendum. We deliberately choose to remain apolitical on issues outside our core and long stated purpose of addressing gender imbalance on boards and committees.
This is particularly the case when 42 per cent of respondents to the member survey* said that organisations, including WOB, should not take a position, or were undecided. This reinforces that we should not assume or impose one view.
It is important to note that the 42 percent should not be interpreted as indicative of individual voting preferences. Our survey intentionally did not address voting intent. A number of survey respondents expressed their intention to vote "yes" on October 14, 2023, but did not believe that WOB (or any other organisation) should take a particular stance. Instead, they believe that the underpinning precepts of democracy should prevail and trust that everyone within our membership will make an informed choice.
From a leadership standpoint, WOB can, and is, respecting each member's autonomy to conduct their research, listen to diverse perspectives, comprehend the proposed changes through the Referendum, and ultimately make a well-considered decision on October 14th. We strongly advocate this approach and wholeheartedly respect everyone’s capacity to make an informed decision.
As an organisation, WOB recognizes the unique status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first inhabitants of this nation. We have an active Cultural Diversity Committee and have consistently offered event scholarships to individuals from many different and often disadvantaged backgrounds as part of our commitment to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion.
We remain committed to work towards the appointment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to Board and Committee roles and reaffirm our steadfast dedication to the path of reconciliation.
*About the Survey
In July-August 2023, WOB surveyed its Full, Premium, Champion and Corporate Members to understand their perspectives on whether they felt (a) organisations should take a position on The Voice and (b) whether Women on Boards specifically should declare a position on The Voice.
- 58 per cent of respondents to the survey said organisations should take a position on The Voice, 36 per cent said they shouldn’t, and 6 per cent were undecided.
- 57 per cent said WOB should take a position on The Voice, 35 per cent said WOB should take no public position on The Voice, one per cent said WOB should publicly NOT support The Voice. 7 per cent were undecided.
Members were invited to respond to the survey over a four-week period. Respondents provided their name and details for membership verification purposes only. To encourage open feedback, anonymity was assured.
In total 463 members responded, representing more than 15 per cent of WOB’s membership. This is considered a statistically valid sample.
About the Referendum
The referendum vote will take place on Saturday 14 October 2023, and ask the following question of Australian voters:
A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
Do you approve this proposed alteration?
YES / NO
The proposed alteration to the constitution:
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.
Official Government website on the Voice - https://voice.gov.au/
Australian Electoral Commission - https://www.aec.gov.au/referendums/