On 31 October 2023, Prof Dr Bertus De Villiers delivered the fifth Perspectives lecture at the Max Planck Foundation in Heidelberg. His lecture focused on indigenous peoples’ representation and the Voice initiative which had been rejected in a recent referendum in Australia.
Drawing on his extensive expertise in public law and minority rights, Prof Dr De Villiers traced the decades-long trajectory of the institutionalised representation of indigenous peoples in Australia which had culminated in the proposal for a constitutional amendment – the Voice. He contextualised this initiative not only in the broader context of Australian political culture but also against the backdrop of comparable attempts to elevate indigenous peoples’ concerns in other countries around the world. His critique of the Voice centred on substantive shortcomings of the planned representative body as well as the way in which atypical levels of political polarisation and ambivalence had weakened its popular appeal. He problematised the strategic choices made in calling the referendum and the pursuit of a constitutional amendment.
As part of his lecture, Prof Dr De Villiers discussed his findings with the attending researchers of the Foundation. In particular his observations about the multiple failings of the Voice sparked a lively debate, given their significance in light of the successes and failures of other high-stakes referenda over the past years.
Prof Dr De Villiers is a renowned legal practitioner and Adjunct Professor of the Law School of Curtin University. The Foundation thanks him for his generous contribution to the Perspectives lecture series.