Australian PM says details of Indigenous voice will follow referendum

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Details on giving Australia’s indigenous people a voice in parliament will follow a national referendum on the issue, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Sunday, adding that the timing of the vote had not been decided.

The centre-left Albanese Labor Party government is calling for a referendum, needed to change the constitution, on the recognition of indigenous peoples in the constitution and the need to consult them on decisions that affect their lives.

Indigenous peoples in Australia have struggled for generations to gain recognition for injustices suffered since European colonization in the 1700s. The constitution, which came into force in January 1901, makes no reference to the country’s indigenous peoples.

The Prime Minister revealed the plan on Saturday in a speech at an Indigenous festival in the remote Arnhem region of the Northern Territory, where he proposed the draft referendum question: “Do you support an amendment to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice? ?”

He suggested that three sentences be added to the constitution if the referendum is successful, allowing the voice to be heard.

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In an interview with ABC television, which aired Sunday, Albanese said further details on the vote would follow the referendum, should the proposal gain support.

“The vote structure legislation will not take place before the referendum,” he said.

Albanese said his government has not decided when to hold the referendum, which he previously said he wanted in the current legislature.

The Prime Minister reiterated that the indigenous voice would not act as a third chamber in parliament. “It in no way changes the primacy of our democratically elected parliament,” he said.

The proposal to enshrine an indigenous voice in parliament was a commitment made by Labor during the general election in May, where it ended nearly a decade of Conservative Liberal-National coalition government.

The ousted coalition had wanted to establish indigenous representation in parliament through legislation. Now in opposition, they have called the plan a “positive step” but say more needs to be known about how the feature will work.

Amending the constitution requires the support of a majority of votes in a majority of states, which has happened eight times in 44 attempts.

A successful referendum would bring Australia into line with Canada, New Zealand and the United States in formally recognizing indigenous peoples.

(Reporting by Samuel McKeith in Sydney; Editing by William Mallard)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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