Australia Takes Step Towards Recognising Aboriginal & Torres Straight Islanders In Historical Referendum

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Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, surrounded by members of the First Nations Referendum Working Group, speaks to the media during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, March 23, 2023. AAP Image/Lukas Coch via REUTERS
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, surrounded by members of the First Nations Referendum Working Group, speaks to the media during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, March 23, 2023. AAP Image/Lukas Coch via REUTERS

The proposed alteration seeks to give the Indigenous Peoples of Australia recognition and a voice on matters that affect their lives.

SYDNEY – Australia is taking a significant step towards recognizing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders by holding a historical referendum. The proposed alteration seeks to give them recognition in the constitution and, for the first time, a voice on matters that affect their lives.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, standing alongside several Indigenous leaders supporting the proposal, revealed the question the government wants to set in the referendum later this year. The question to be put to Australians will be: “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?”.

The proposed alteration is a crucial step in correcting the historical injustices that have affected the Aboriginal people for centuries. They were marginalised by British colonial rulers and are not mentioned in the 122-year-old constitution. They were not granted voting rights until the 1960s and tracked below national averages on most socio-economic measures.

A Kaurna elder, Uncle Moogy, performs a traditional smoking ceremony with spectators, in Adelaide, Australia February 23, 2023. REUTERS/Jill Gralow

“If Not Now, When?”

Making up about 3.2% of Australia’s nearly 26 million population, the Aboriginal people have been waiting for this recognition for a very long time. The proposed consultative committee in parliament called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice will provide non-binding advice to parliament on matters that affect First Nations people.

The government will introduce the bill next week, hoping to pass it in the parliament by the end of June. Any constitutional alterations require a national referendum. Australians will be asked to vote between October and December.

However, the opposition leader Peter Dutton said the government still had not responded to his queries on how the consultative panel would function and he needed more details. The rural-based National Party, the junior partner in the opposition coalition, has said it would oppose the Voice, while the left-wing Greens party and some independent lawmakers have promised support.

A member of the First Nations Referendum Working Group Marcia Langton speaks to the media during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, on March 23, 2023. AAP Image/Lukas Coch via REUTERS

Albanese has staked significant political capital on the referendum. Since Australian independence in 1901, there have been 44 proposals for constitutional change in 19 referendums, and only eight have been approved. In the last referendum in 1999, Australians voted against changing the constitution to create a republic and replace the British monarch as head of state with a president.

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Opponents criticised the wording of that referendum, and Albanese has said he would aim to frame the current question as simply and clearly as possible. The federal government said the ‘Yes-No’ pamphlet, containing arguments on both sides, will be sent to all households.

In conclusion, the proposed alteration to the constitution is a crucial step towards recognizing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia. The Aboriginal people have been waiting for this recognition for a very long time. The referendum will be held later this year, and Australians will be asked to vote between October and December. The consultative committee will provide non-binding advice to parliament on matters that affect First Nations people. It is time to amend the constitution and create a consultative committee in parliament called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. – Reuters