Australia’s Albanese set to announce date for Indigenous referendum By Reuters
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man displays a t-shirt with a message reading “Protect Aboriginal Heritage” during a protest by aboriginal groups against what they say is a lack of detail and consultation on new heritage protection laws, after the Rio Tinto mining group de
By Praveen Menon
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is set to announce on Wednesday the date for a landmark referendum to change the constitution to recognise Australia’s Indigenous people, although support for the proposal is waning.
Australians will be asked to vote on whether they support altering the constitution to include a “Voice to Parliament”, an Indigenous committee to advise federal parliament on matters affecting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.
Any constitutional alterations in Australia require a national referendum.
Albanese is expected to announce the date in a news conference from Adelaide in South Australia, seen as a potential swing state in the referendum.
Australia has no treaty with its Indigenous people, who make up about 3.2% of its near 26 million population and track below national averages on most socio-economic measures.
They are not mentioned in the constitution despite inhabiting the land for over 60,000 years.
The government has staked significant political capital on the referendum’s success, and top sporting codes, major corporations and welfare groups support the campaign.
But public debate on the issue has been divisive, and support for the proposal has dipped in recent months, according to opinion polls.
Backers argue voting yes will help mend fraught ties with the Aboriginal community and unite the nation, and the advisory body will help prioritise Indigenous health, education, employment and housing.
Some opponents, however, argue the move would divide Australians along racial lines and hand excessive power to the Indigenous body. Others have described the Voice as a symbolic and toothless body.
Getting constitutional change is difficult in Australia. The referendum must gain more than 50% of votes nationwide, and support from a majority of voters in at least four of the six states.
In the past there have been 44 proposals for constitutional change in 19 referendums, and only eight of these have passed.
In the most recent referendum in 1999, Australians voted against changing the constitution to establish Australia as a republic.