Australia’s 122-year-old Constitution has never recognized Indigenous people as the original inhabitants of the land.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has outlined details of a proposed referendum to be held later this year to recognize the country’s indigenous people in the constitution.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who represent about 3.8 percent of Australia’s population, are currently unnamed in the constitution. For 122 years, Australia’s founding document has failed to recognize Indigenous communities and their more than 65,000 years of continuous connection to the land.
The referendum – to be held between October and December – will seek to enshrine recognition of indigenous people in the constitution by establishing a parliamentary advisory committee called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
An emotional Albanian said on Thursday that such a body promoting indigenous views in government and parliament was needed to overcome the systemic backwardness of generations of indigenous peoples.
“We urgently need better results because it’s not good enough where we are in 2023,” Albanese told reporters. “By any measure, there is a gap between the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the national average,” Albanese said.
“A 10-year gap in life expectancy, a suicide rate twice as high, tragic levels of infant mortality and disease, a massive overrepresentation in the prison population and deaths in custody, among children sent to out-of-home care,” he said. said.
“And this is not because of a lack of goodwill or good intentions on any side of politics, nor is it because of a lack of money. It’s because governments have spent decades trying to impose solutions from Canberra rather than consult with communities,” he added.
“If not now, when?” said a visibly emotional Albanian, pausing several times as he read out a prepared statement.
This is the question that will be put to the Australian people. Nothing more, but also nothing less. pic.twitter.com/XDj3JIp46A
— Anthony Albanian (@AlboMP) March 23, 2023
“Today is the result of years of patient and passionate work,” the prime minister wrote in a tweet. “Now is the chance to make history and create a better future for you – the people of Australia,” he said.
The question put to voters in the referendum will be: “A Bill: Amend the Constitution to recognize Australia’s first peoples by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed change?”
If the referendum succeeds, the constitution would provide that the “Voice may make protests” to parliament and government “on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.
The Australian Constitution came into force in 1901 and has never recognized Indigenous people as the original inhabitants of the land.
The term Great Australian Silence was coined in the late last century to describe the erasing of Indigenous perspectives and experiences from mainstream Australian history.
But changing Australia’s constitution has never been easy, and more than four out of five referenda fail. Of the 44 referendums held since 1901, only eight have been held, and none since 1977. In the last referendum in 1999, Australians voted against amending the constitution to create a republic and deny the monarch of the United Kingdom as to replace the head of state with a president.
Opinion polls suggest most Australians support the Voice concept, which Albanese announced was a majority priority of his centre-left Labor government during his victory speech on election night last May.
But deep divisions remain in Australian society.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton said his Conservative Liberal party has yet to decide whether to support the Voice and needs more details, including the government’s own legal advice.
The Nationals party, the junior coalition partner in the former Conservative-led government, announced in November that they had decided to oppose the Voice, saying it would divide the nation along racial lines.
A Guardian poll on Tuesday showed public support for the referendum was down 5 percent, but was still backed by a majority, with 59 percent favoring the constitutional amendment.
The Albanians have invested considerable political capital in the referendum.