The Australian government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese formally introduced a bill in parliament on Thursday to hold a referendum to recognize Indigenous people in the country’s constitution and to set up the “Voice to Parliament.”
Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, who introduced the bill in parliament as a formal step toward the referendum, said it is a step to rectify a fundamental wrong in the constitution.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have occupied the Australian continent for over 60,000 years and represent the oldest continuous living cultures in human history,” according to Dreyfus, who was quoted by ABC News as saying.
“They have maintained a relationship with Australia’s land, waters, and skies time immemorial,” he added.
The referendum is expected to be held between October and December this year. Albanese, however, said they will first hold a discussion before making an announcement.
“We’ll wait, we won’t preempt the passage of the legislation. When the legislation is carried, we will have a discussion and then make an announcement,” he told a local broadcaster 10 News First, and the transcript was later posted on the Prime Minister’s official website.
He described the introduction of the bill as an opportunity for Australians to come together.
“In my view, this is important for respect for First Nations people, but it’s also an opportunity for us to come together, a moment of national unity to recognize the great privilege that I have of living on a continent and sharing this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth and, secondly, it is also just about consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, through a representative body, on matters that affect them.
Last week, while unveiling the referendum question, Albanese said if the constitution is amended, it will have a new chapter titled “Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.”
Following the election victory of Albanese’s center-left Labor Party in May last year, he announced that his government would include Indigenous people as original inhabitants in the constitution.
Since the colonization of Australia by British settlers in 1788, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have faced hardships, ranging from the loss of traditional culture and homelands to the forced removal of children and denial of citizenship rights, according to Australian Human Rights Commission.
“This history of injustice has meant that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been denied access to basic human rights, such as rights to health, housing, employment, and education,” it added.
*Writing by Islamuddin Sajid