Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Saturday unveiled the wording of a draft referendum question as part of moves to enshrine an Indigenous voice in parliament.
The government is seeking a referendum, which is necessary to make changes to the constitution, on recognising Indigenous minorities in the constitution and requiring governments to consult Aboriginal people on decisions that impact their lives.
The change is a commitment Albanese’s centre-left Labor Party took to May’s general election, where it defeated the conservative Liberal-National coalition. The coalition had wanted to establish Indigenous representation in parliament through legislation.
Albanese, who revealed the plan in a speech at an Indigenous festival in remote Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory, proposed the draft referendum question: “Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?”
The prime minister suggested three sentences be added to the constitution if the referendum succeeds, enabling the voice to be set-up.
“I ask all Australians of goodwill to engage on this,” he said.
“Respectfully, purposefully we are seeking to secure support for the question and the associated provisions in time for a successful referendum, in this term of parliament.”
The voice would be a source of advice and accountability, but “not a third chamber” in the parliament, he added.
Opposition spokesperson for Indigenous Australians, Julian Leeser, told local media the speech was a “positive step,” but that Australians needed to know how the function would work.
Australia’s constitution makes no reference to Indigenous people, whose leaders have toiled for generations to win recognition for injustices suffered since European colonisation in the 1700s.
Altering the constitution is difficult, requiring support of a majority of votes in a majority of states. The feat has only occurred eight times in 44 attempts since federation in 1901.
A successful referendum would bring Australia in line with Canada, New Zealand, and the United States in formally recognising Indigenous populations.
By Samuel McKeith.