Australia wants to change the constitution through a referendum to establish a consultative body with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Their advice to Parliament and the government was to ameliorate centuries of tribal subjugation.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wants to incorporate the amendment into the constitution so that Australia’s traditional resident status cannot be further debated. This is the first time that the indigenous and tribal peoples of the Torres Strait Islands (under Papua New Guinea) have a place in the constitution. 274 islands were annexed to the Australian state of Queensland in 1879.
Tribal people are facing huge problems. These are rarely addressed because they do not have a voice in policy, regulations and legislation. Actions are always taken without consulting them. For example, Aboriginal people live an average of ten years less than other, predominantly white, Australians. Their health is on average very poor and their education is backward. Indigenous peoples are also incarcerated more frequently and for longer periods of time.
Voting is mandatory
Parliament will vote on the referendum bill in June. A constitutional amendment requires a referendum to be approved by a majority. In addition, at least four of the six Australian states must have a majority. Voting is compulsory for Australians. A vote is expected to be held after September, after approval by Parliament.
However, Parliament’s approval is still not contested. Peter Dutton, the opposition leader of the Liberals, has many more questions and will first seek advice from the country’s advocate general, like the Council of State in the Netherlands. Prime Minister Albanese said on Thursday that he hoped a referendum would be held to improve the status of indigenous peoples and enshrine it in the constitution.
The Advisory Committee will be called ‘Voice’. It is to be made up of elected representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Duplicate functions of People’s Representatives are not allowed. The Voice can provide solicited and unsolicited advice on matters relating to Indigenous Peoples. Parliament has the final say. A voice law system will only be organized if the referendum is successful.
Certainly not the latter. Australia has held 44 referendums so far, winning only eight. The last constitutional amendment resulting from a referendum was about fifty years ago.
The vote has also drawn criticism from indigenous peoples. Some of them want to negotiate their rights with the Australian government first. Similar agreements have been made with indigenous peoples in other former British colonies such as New Zealand and Canada. This happened 150 years ago.
Finally the Aboriginals are asking for an apology from Australia.
The Australian government said on Monday it would formally apologize to the country’s indigenous peoples for years of suffering at the hands of the government.
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