SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian government on Thursday revealed the question it wants to put to a vote in a proposed federal referendum later this year to constitutionally recognise its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Australians will be asked to vote between October and December on amending the constitution to create a consultative committee in parliament called Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. It would provide non-binding advice to parliament on matters that affect First Nations people.
“For many … this moment has been a very long time in the making,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said during a televised media conference.
“Yet, they have shown such patience and optimism through this process and that spirit of cooperation and thoughtful, respectful dialogue, has been so important at arriving at this point in such a united fashion.”
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who represent about 3.2% of Australia’s population, are currently not mentioned in the constitution. They track below national averages on most socio-economic measures and suffer disproportionately high rates of suicide, domestic violence and imprisonment.
“If not now, when??”, a visibly emotional Albanese said, pausing several times while reading a prepared statement.
Albanese said the referendum question to be put to Australians will be: “A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?”
Albanese has staked much of his political capital on the referendum. Since Australia became an independent country in 1901, there have been 44 proposals for constitutional change in 19 referendums, and only eight have been approved.
Any alterations to the constitution require a national referendum.
(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)