Australians have learned the question they will be asked later this year in the country’s first referendum in 24 years, a vote deemed so important that the Prime Minister stopped by on Thursday to ponder his emotions as he announced the details.
On a date to be determined, Australians will be asked whether the country’s indigenous peoples, who make up 3.2% of the population, should be recognized in the Constitution.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the issue at a press conference: “A bill to amend the constitution to recognize Australia’s First Peoples by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice. Do you approve of this proposed change? »
“That is the question facing the Australian people, nothing more, nothing less,” said an emotional Albanian, who paused for a few seconds in mid-sentence to thank the indigenous leaders for their patience.
“This moment took a very long time to prepare, but they showed such patience and optimism throughout this process. And this spirit of cooperation and thoughtful and respectful dialogue was so important to arrive to this point in such a united way,” he said.
A “yes” vote would recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution and create an Aboriginal body to advise the Federal Parliament on policies and projects relating to Aboriginal peoples.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney called Thursday’s announcement of the wording a “truly historic day”.
“Today we take a big step on the long road to constitutional recognition, by voice,” said Burney, a member of the Wiradjuri Nation. “We think it’s so fair. We think it will appeal to the fairness of the Australian people. And we believe we have history on our side.
The wording of the question will be presented to Parliament next week and a parliamentary committee will be formed to consider the proposals before a parliamentary vote in June.
The referendum itself is scheduled between October and December this year.
The government says it is the country’s best chance to right past wrongs, committed after the land was colonized with little regard for the opinions or well-being of its original inhabitants.
More than 200 years later, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still suffer far worse health, mortality and economic outcomes than non-Aboriginal members of the Australian population, according to government statistics.
Successive administrations have attempted to “close the gap,” but Indigenous incarceration rates remain consistently high, and advocates say racist attitudes are entrenched in society, further impeding progress.
However, despite strong pressure from the government for a “yes”, the result is not guaranteed.
The Liberal Party, the main opposition party, removed from office last May, has not yet announced whether it will support a vote in favor of the Voice in Parliament.
Liberal Leader Peter Dutton says he wants to see more details on how it would work, a request seen by some as entirely reasonable and by others as a spoiler tactic to sow doubt.
The National Party, which traditionally represents rural voters, has already ruled out supporting the Voice, calling it “another layer of bureaucratic red tape” that will not advance the interests of indigenous peoples.
Some Indigenous groups say that’s not enough – they want Australia to end its status as the only Commonwealth country not to have signed a treaty with its Indigenous population first.
The idea of a voice in Parliament grew out of a consultation process with hundreds of diverse indigenous groups who expressed their wishes in the Heart of Uluru Declaration.
To pass, the referendum must receive a majority of votes across the country and a majority of votes in a majority of states. Only eight referendums out of 44 have been approved in Australia.
The last was in 1999 when Australians rejected calls for a republic.
Albanese said the wording for this year’s vote was crafted during months of consultation with Indigenous groups and legal experts.
“This form of wording is legally valid, and it is a form of wording that we are all confident will command the strongest possible support from the Australian people in a referendum and give the best possible results in years to come,” he said. .