Australia is preparing a landmark referendum on October 14 — aiming to determine the establishment of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
Purpose of referendum
This referendum holds the potential to recognise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community within the country’s constitution and create a lasting advisory body for their input on laws.
The proposal has ignited spirited debates, given Australia’s lack of success in referendums over the past five decades. Success hinges on a majority “yes” vote from the Australian population and majority support from at least four of the six states.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, during an announcement in Adelaide, referred to the referendum as a “once-in-a-generation chance to bring our country together and to change it for the better.”
He explained that the Indigenous Voice would consist of a committee of Indigenous Australians, chosen by their own communities, to provide advice to the government. This initiative stemmed directly from an invitation extended by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups.
The foundation for this proposal can be traced back to the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, a historic document crafted by more than 250 Indigenous leaders. While not recognised, this statement represents a significant call for reforms benefiting First Nations Australians.
In the Commonwealth, Australia remains unique for never having established a treaty with its Indigenous population. Advocates view the Indigenous Voice as a critical step towards addressing this historical absence and fostering reconciliation.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton, who opposes the Indigenous Voice, argues that the proposal lacks specifics and controversially suggests it could foster racial division. Conversely, some opponents, including Dutton, have been accused of exacerbating racial tensions and spreading misinformation. These exchanges of accusations extend to claims that the Yes campaign is elitist and dismisses valid concerns of everyday Australians.
The emotionally charged debate has not been without consequences, as mental health advocates caution about the toll it’s taking on Indigenous individuals. Australia’s last referendum, in 1999, focused on becoming a republic. Out of 44 referendums, only eight have succeeded, with the most recent one in 1977. The imminent referendum marks a pivotal moment in Australia’s history, carrying significant implications for its future.