Australia set for landmark referendum on Indigenous voice

World Monday 19/June/2023 16:05 PM
By: DW
Australia set for landmark referendum on Indigenous voice

Sydney: Lawmakers in Australia on Monday approved a referendum on whether Australia's Indigenous population should be recognised in the constitution.

Such a change would give the Indigenous population — which was not even considered a distinct group in the national census until the 1960s  — a dedicated say in policymaking for the first time.

What's the latest?
Parliament's upper house, the Senate, passed the bill with 52 votes for and 19 against — confirming the wording of the referendum on constitutional change.

The lower house of Australia's parliament passed the draft legislation in May.

There was applause in the Senate after the vote was held.

"Together, we can make history by enshrining recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution," tweeted Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has been campaigning for the "voice referendum" since he won the general election in May last year.

His center-left government says it wants to empower the Indigenous community, which suffers from lower levels of education, poorer health, and higher imprisonment rates.

"One step closer to giving a voice to needs and aspirations of Indigenous Australians," Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said.

"Today the political debate ends. Today we can start a national conversation at the community level about what a Voice is, why it's needed, and how it will make a practical difference," said Burney.

What happens now?
In the coming weeks, Albanese is expected to set a date for a referendum on the issue.

Any change to the constitution requires a "double majority." That means there must both be a more than 50% "Yes" vote nationally and that at least four out of six states register a majority in favour.

However, debate on the bill has become increasingly acrimonious, and support for the "Voice to Parliament" has started to ebb.

The opposition conservative coalition is split on its referendum stance, but its leader — the Liberal Party's Peter Dutton — has complained a "Yes" vote would officially divide the country along racial lines.

Dutton claimed earlier this year that it would have "an Orwellian effect where all Australians are equal, but some Australians are more equal than others." Others on the right say they want the referendum, but will campaign against the proposal.

Even among Aboriginal Australians, the proposed change is not universally popular.

Independent senator  and Indigenous activist Lidia Thorpe described the Voice to Parliament as a "powerless advisory body" aimed at "appeasing the white guilt in this country."