Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese was tearful as he released the wording of a referendum question that promises the nation’s Indigenous population a greater say on policies that effect their lives.
Australians are expected to vote sometime between October and December on a constitutional amendment that would enshrine a new body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
The Voice would be an elected group charged with advocating Indigenous interests, but would not have a vote on laws.
Mr Albanese said the body was needed to overcome Indigenous disadvantage, adding: “We urgently need better outcomes because it’s not good enough where we’re at in 2023.”
The wording of the referendum question that the Cabinet signed off on Thursday is similar to words proposed by the Australian prime minister last year.
The question will be: “A proposed law: To alter the constitution to recognize the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?”
If the referendum succeeds, the constitution would state that the “Voice may make representations” to the Parliament and government “on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
“On every measure, there is a gap between the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the national average,” Mr Albanese added.
“A 10-year gap in life expectancy, a suicide rate twice as high, tragic levels of child mortality and disease, a massive overrepresentation in the prison population and deaths in custody, in children sent to out-of-home care.
“And this is not because of a shortage of goodwill or good intentions on any side of politics and it’s not because of a lack of funds.
“It’s because governments have spent decades trying to impose solutions from Canberra rather than consulting with communities.”
The Voice was originally proposed by a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advocates in 2017.
If approved its members would be chosen by Indigenous people, and would serve for fixed terms.
Members would be chosen from every Australian state and territory as well as the Torres Strait islands and include specific representatives for remote areas.