Australia to vote on indigenous constitutional recognition

Source: Xinhua| 2019-07-10 13:41:23|Editor: Yurou
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CANBERRA, July 10 (Xinhua) -- The Australian government has committed to holding a referendum on recognizing indigenous Australians in the constitution within three years.

In an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Ken Wyatt, the first indigenous person to be minister for indigenous Australians, pledged that the referendum would be held during the current term of parliament, which expires in 2022.

He said that the government would spend seven million Australian dollars (about five million U.S. dollars) designing the exact question to be put to the Australian people with indigenous leaders. More than 160 million AUD will be spent on holding the referendum.

"The successful 1967 referendum was the result of tireless advocacy and an extraordinary nationwide momentum for change," Wyatt said.

More than 90 percent of respondents voted in favour of the 1967 referendum, which asked if Aboriginal people should be “counted in reckoning the population.”

"If we want to see that kind of national consensus again, we need to be thorough and take the time to get it right,” Wyatt said on Wednesday.

In 2017 hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders gathered at Uluru, a site of cultural significance for indigenous Australians, to sign the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The statement was a historic document that called for a referendum to establish a permanent indigenous body to advise parliament.

Former Prime Minister (PM) Malcolm Turnbull rejected the proposal but his successor, Scott Morrison, is open to it and has agreed to work with the Opposition Australian Labor Party on it.

"When I take the notion of the voice, that voice was not just a singular voice, it is voices at every level," Wyatt said on Wednesday.

"It is a cry to all tiers of government to stop and listen to the voices of Indigenous Australians.

“The development of a local, regional and national voice will be achieved."

In order for a referendum to be successful a majority of voters nationally and a majority in at least four of Australia’s six states must be in favour.

Because of the double majority requirement, only eight of the 44 referendums put to the Australian people since 1901 have been successful.

A 1984 poll on changing the term lengths of Australian Senators received a majority of voters nationally but failed because a majority in only two states were in favour of change.

“We need to design the right model to progress to a point at which the majority of Australians, the majority of states and territories and indigenous Australians support the model so that it is successful,” Wyatt said.

“Constitutional recognition is too important to get wrong, and too important to rush.”

Responding to the announcement, Labour Senator Pat Dodson – a leading voice in the push for recognition – said that the process since the Uluru Statement has already taken too long.

“I think these are matters which have dragged on for far too long,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) radio.

“People should really put the challenge to the minister, come up with the model that they want, the voice, and the set of words that they want to go into the constitution, and there has been proposals in relation to those matters and it shouldn’t take more than 18 months to settle that.”