Australia Passes Legislation for Historic Referendum on Aboriginal Rights

  • World
  • Politics
PUBLISHED 19 June 2023

Australia has taken a significant step toward acknowledging the rights of its Indigenous population by passing legislation in the Senate, setting the stage for a landmark referendum. The proposed referendum aims to grant Indigenous Australians a "voice" in national policymaking, marking a pivotal moment in the country's history. With a vote of 52-19 in favor, the legislation now awaits Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's announcement of the referendum date in the coming weeks.

The government, led by the center-left Prime Minister, seeks to amend the constitution to empower Indigenous Australians, who have long endured challenges such as poorer health, limited access to education, and higher rates of incarceration. Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, an influential Aboriginal politician, expressed her emotions about the impending campaign, describing the referendum as a defining moment for the nation.

If successfully passed, the referendum will enshrine in the constitution the right of Indigenous Australians, whose ancestors have inhabited the continent for over 60,000 years, to be consulted by the government regarding laws that affect their communities. However, the debate surrounding the proposed "Voice to Parliament" has become increasingly contentious. Conservative opposition leader Peter Dutton has argued that it could foster racial division, stating that it would create a situation where some Australians are more equal than others, alluding to an Orwellian effect.

The "Voice to Parliament" concept has not garnered unanimous support among Aboriginal Australians either, with some questioning its efficacy as a bureaucratic remedy that would have limited practical impact. Independent senator Lidia Thorpe, a prominent Indigenous activist, dismissed it as a "powerless advisory body," suggesting that it is primarily an attempt to assuage feelings of guilt among the white population.

While early polls indicated broad support for the referendum, recent surveys suggest a decline in backing as the acrimonious political discourse surrounding the issue takes its toll. Despite the ongoing debates, the passage of the legislation marks a significant milestone in Australia's efforts to recognize and address the historical and ongoing injustices faced by its Indigenous population.