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Australia to hold historic referendum over recognising indigenous people in October

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Supporters hold placards during a community event in support of the Voice.—AFP
Supporters hold placards during a community event in support of the Voice.—AFP

Australia is gearing up for a historic referendum set for October 14th — to decide the establishment of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

What is the referendum about? 

This referendum holds the promise of recognising the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in the country’s constitution and creating a permanent advisory body for their input on legislative matters.

This proposal has ignited debates as Australia hasn’t seen a successful referendum in nearly 50 years. For it to pass, a majority of Australians must vote in favour, with at least four out of the six states also providing majority support.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, announcing the referendum date in Adelaide, described it as a “once-in-a-generation chance to bring our country together and to change it for the better”. 

He explained that the Indigenous Voice would comprise a committee of Indigenous Australians, chosen by their own communities, offering advice to the government. This initiative emerged from an invitation directly expressed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups.

The backdrop 

The foundation for this proposal lies in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, a historic document crafted by more than 250 Indigenous leaders. While not universally endorsed, this statement is a significant call for reforms benefiting First Nations Australians.

In the Commonwealth, Australia remains unique for never having established a treaty with its Indigenous population. Advocates view the Indigenous Voice as a crucial step towards rectifying this historical absence and fostering reconciliation.

Opposition concerns 

Opposition leader Peter Dutton, who opposes the Indigenous Voice, contends that the proposal lacks specifics and controversially suggests it could lead to racial division. Conversely, some opponents, including Dutton, have been accused of promoting racial tensions and misinformation.

Such exchanges of accusations extend to claims of elitism against the Yes campaign and allegations of dismissing legitimate concerns of ordinary Australians.

The emotionally charged debate has not been without consequences, with mental health advocates warning about the toll it takes on Indigenous individuals. Australia’s last referendum in 1999 focused on becoming a republic.

Out of 44 referendums, only eight have succeeded, with the most recent one in 1977. The impending referendum carries profound implications, representing a critical juncture in Australia’s history.

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