Australians to Vote in Referendum on Indigenous Rights

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Aboriginal Cave Painting; Bunjil Shelter, Black Range, Victoria, Australia; May 2010 [ Photo: René Riegal/ Unspalsh]

by Saurav Sarkar

Voters in Australia will decide through a referendum on October 14, 2023, whether or not to create a representative body for Indigenous peoples of Australia, reported Reuters. The new body would be able to provide nonbinding advice to Parliament.

“It’s a moment calling out to the best of our Australian character. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people this has been a marathon. For all of us, it is now a sprint,” said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Elle Australia described the proposal as “a [formalized] system for First Nations people to meaningfully guide and influence [policymaking] across all areas of government that they’re impacted by, and one that is embedded into law and [cannot] be changed.” According to Reuters, the idea for a so-called “Voice to Parliament” came from negotiations among Indigenous groups in 2017.

There are currently about 800,000 Indigenous people in Australia. Their communities, who have inhabited the continent for as long as 60,000 years, faced racist discrimination with the advent of the colonial era. Their people were decimated by disease, afflicted by violence from settlers, and displaced from their land. From the 19th century until as late as the 1970s, Australian policymakers kidnapped First Nations children from their families. The government’s own Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found in 1997 that the latter constituted a crime against humanity.

Reuters reported that the Labor and Green parties support the referendum, while the conservative Liberal Party is calling for votes against it. However, opposition to the plan also exists from the left, with some feeling that the new body would be, according to Reuters, “symbolic and toothless.”

Author Bio: Saurav Sarkar is a freelance writer and editor who covers political activism and labor movements. They live in Long Island, New York, and have also lived in New York City, New Delhi, London, and Washington, D.C. Follow them on Twitter @sauravthewriter and at sauravsarkar.com.

Credit Line: from the Globetrotter News Service

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