The Australian Parliament has passed legislation paving the way for a historic Aboriginal rights referendum, in which voters will decide whether Indigenous peoples receive a specialized “voice” in decision-making. national policy or not.
In a final vote in the Senate, the upper house, 52 people voted in favor of the bill while 19 people voted against.
The referendum will ask Australians if they support changing the constitution to include a “Speak up before the National Assembly“, a committee that can advise parliament on matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia.
“Parliaments pass laws, but it is people who make history,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told a news conference after the bill was passed.
The referendum is expected to take place before the end of the year although Albanians have yet to set a date.
“This is your time, your chance, your chance to be a part of making history,” he said.
Aboriginal Australians represent about 3 per cent of Australia’s nearly 26 million people, but account for more than a quarter of their prisoners, according to official data, with many jailed for misdemeanor.
About a third of Indigenous Australians, thousands of whom were killed after the British arrived in Australia and took control of the land under the concept of terra nullius, a Latin legal term meaning ” the land belongs to no one”. live below the poverty line.
If the referendum is passed, Indigenous Australians, whose ancestors have lived on the continent for at least 60,000 years, will be enshrined in the constitution for the first time.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will also have a constitutional right to government advice on laws affecting their communities.
“This is a matter of who we are as a nation,” says Albanese.
“Australians will now have the opportunity to say ‘yes’ to reconciliation and ‘yes’ to constitutional recognition for the people of the First Nations.”
Polls show a majority in favor of the so-called “Voice Before Congress” but support is slipping as the debate becomes increasingly heated.
Senators supporting the bill clapped and cheered as the final numbers were read in the room.
“It’s a very simple request… recognized in the constitution,” Malardirri McCarthy, an indigenous woman and ruling Labor senator, told the audience.
“Most natives want this to happen,” she said.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton, whose Liberal Party is asking people to vote “no” in the referendum, has claimed a “yes” vote would divide the country along racial lines. ethnicity.
“It will have the Orwellian effect, where all Australians are equal but some Australians are more equal than others,” he said earlier this year.
That statement was denounced by Greens leader Adam Bandt on Monday as “whistle of racism”.
But some Aboriginal Australians have also questioned the value of voice.
Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe, a prominent indigenous activist, said it was a “powerless advisory body”.
“That’s what it’s meant to be – it eases the guilt of white people in this country,” she said before the bill was passed on Monday. She previously told Al Jazeera that Australia needs a Truth and Justice Commission to make sure more people know about the country’s past and its treatment of Aboriginal people.
Historically, Australians have been reluctant to change the constitution; Of the 44 proposals put forward in 19 referendums, only eight were approved by popular vote.
The most recent referendum was in 1999 when Australians rejected the creation of a republic.
To win the referendum, the government would need to achieve a double majority, meaning more than 50 percent of voters nationwide and a majority of voters in at least four of the six states must support it. change.