Australian Government Takes First Step Towards Indigenous Recognition in Constitution

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A sticker of the Australian Aboriginal Flag along with the word "RESPECT" is pictured on a structure at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a site of protest since 1972, in Canberra, Australia, May 4, 2022. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Australian Government Proposes Referendum to Establish “Voice to Parliament”

SYDNEY – The Australian government has taken the first formal step towards holding a referendum to recognise Indigenous people in the constitution and set up an Indigenous “Voice to Parliament” to advise lawmakers on matters that impact their lives. The proposed changes seek to acknowledge history and promote reconciliation, but they have faced opposition from some quarters.

Introducing the bill in parliament, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the referendum, to be held between October and December, would be an opportunity to acknowledge history and help Australians come together “for a more reconciled future.” The proposed changes would create an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice – a consultative committee providing non-binding advice to parliament on matters that affect them.

Anthony Albanese, Australia's Prime Minister, attends the 2nd ASEAN Global Dialogue during the ASEAN summit held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia November 13, 2022. REUTERS/Cindy Liu/File Photo
Anthony Albanese, Australia’s Prime Minister, attends the 2nd ASEAN Global Dialogue during the ASEAN summit held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia November 13, 2022. REUTERS/Cindy Liu/File Photo

Proposed Changes Seek to Acknowledge History and Promote Reconciliation

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last week revealed the question the government wants to set in the referendum and urged Australians to back what he described as a long overdue vote. Australia’s Aboriginal people, making up about 3.2% of the nearly 26 million population, track below national averages on most socio-economic measures and are not mentioned in the 122-year-old constitution. They were marginalised by British colonial rulers and not granted voting rights until the 1960s.

The proposed bill has faced opposition from some quarters, with the main opposition Liberal party yet to decide if it would support the constitutional amendments. Its junior coalition partner, the rural-based National Party, has said it would oppose them. However, the left-wing Greens party and some independent lawmakers have promised to support the “Yes” campaign.

Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders wearing traditional dress stand in front of Government House after performing in a welcoming ceremony in Sydney, Australia, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo
Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders wearing traditional dress stand in front of Government House after performing in a welcoming ceremony in Sydney, Australia, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

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

A Guardian poll last week showed public support for the referendum was down 5% but was still backed by a majority, with 59% in favour. The government proposed that the bill be referred to a joint select committee for consideration and hopes to pass it by the end of June.

Any constitutional alterations in Australia require a national referendum. To succeed, a referendum requires a national majority of votes and a majority of votes in at least four of the six states. The proposed changes would be an essential step towards recognising the rights of Australia’s Indigenous people and promoting greater social and economic equality. – Reuters