ALIA Board Statement on the upcoming Referendum on the Voice to Parliament

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) today and every day acknowledges that we live and work on the land of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As the Uluru Statement from the Heart, endorsed by the ALIA Board, says:

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.” 

A key recommendation from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, was to establish a Voice to Parliament. In light of the planned Referendum on the Voice this year, the ALIA Board makes this statement.   

Access to information is a core value of the library and information sector and a fundamental requirement for democracy. In a world of mis and disinformation, library staff are trusted to support people’s understanding and answer questions, including on the processes that make our democracy function. The commitment to equitable access for people in the community is vital for people to make an informed decision in the Referendum. 

In addition, libraries play an essential role in preserving the human record, and recording the key moments in Australia’s story. Libraries have a responsibility to collect and preserve this period of history in all formats, at national and local level, and ensuring that there is enduring access to these records. 

Libraries in Australia have not always been welcoming places for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They house collections that misrepresent First Nations peoples and the devastating impact of colonialism. They can be places of trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and libraries are working to make their spaces culturally safe for all who walk through their doors. ALIA supports the process of truth-telling that needs to happen across the nation to right this wrong and is working to support the work of libraries in uncovering the truth and shining a light on Australia’s past. 

There is a risk that the safety and wellbeing of First Nations library staff and community will be negatively impacted during the process of the Referendum and the debate surrounding it. ALIA expects library and information services workplaces and workers to take steps to identify and mitigate risks, and to support and respect First Nations staff and community.  ALIA has prepared guidance and resources for libraries and information services to help manage these risks.  

The library and information sector has not always listened well to First Nations peoples. In 2021, ALIA sought to listen more deeply, and established the ALIA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Expert Advisory Group, whose members have shared their advice and experience in the library and information sector. This year and every year ALIA will work to raise up the voices of First Nations peoples. 

In light of our commitment to access to information, democracy and truth-telling, ALIA encourages all Australians to make an informed vote in the Referendum by seeking out information and resources and listening closely to understand. 

ALIA has created a set of resources to support library and information services during the referendum, including in mitigating risks. These can be accessed by Members here.

Australian Library and Information Association Board
5 April 2023