ISTANBUL (AA) — Australia has revealed the question to voters for a national referendum scheduled later this year to decide whether to recognize Indigenous people.
Australians are to vote, “yes” or “no” on whether they approve a proposed law to “alter the Constitution to recognize the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice,” an emotional Anthony Albanese, the country’s prime minister, told a news conference.
Before the referendum, the measure would require a constitutional amendment through parliament.
The Albanese government is tabling the bill in parliament for the constitutional amendment on Thursday, next week, which if passed, would be the first since 1977.
The vote will be held in June. The country’s Constitution currently does not recognize Indigenous peoples.
The referendum is expected to be held after August of this year.
If amended, the Constitution will have a new chapter titled “Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.”
This will also allow the establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to advise parliament and the government on issues impacting First Nations Australians.
However, the body would not have the power to veto laws, according to SBS News.
Members of the Voice will be drawn from all states and territories of Australia and the group will be gender-balanced and have youth representation.
The draft bill says parliament “will have the power to decide on the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Voice.”
Whether the members of the Voice will be elected or appointed remains to be seen.
“If not now, when? This is an opportunity that doesn’t belong to the (politicians), it belongs to every Australian equally,” Albanese said.
He urged Australians to support the Voice, saying it would “help achieve better outcomes for First Nations people.”
Following the election victory of Albanese’s center-left Labor Party in May last year, he announced that his government would include Indigenous people as original inhabitants in the Constitution.
The Albanese government last month pledged to amend the country’s Constitution to officially recognize Indigenous peoples as the country’s first citizens before the 236th anniversary of British colonization, with a referendum to take place in the second half of this year.
Just weeks after Albanese took office, lawyer Lincoln Crowley was appointed as the first Indigenous Australian state or territory justice in Queensland last June.
“It’s remarkable in so many ways. Remarkable for me that I am the first, and remarkable for our community that it has taken so long for this occasion to arrive,” Crowley said after taking the oath.
Before him, Ken Wyatt became the first Indigenous Australian to be appointed to the Cabinet of then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison in 2019.
Since the colonization of Australia by British settlers in 1788, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have faced hardships, ranging from the loss of traditional culture and homelands to the forced removal of children and denial of citizenship rights, according to Australian Human Rights Commission.
“This history of injustice has meant that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been denied access to basic human rights, such as rights to health, housing, employment, and education,” the commission stated.