SYDNEY, July 31 (Reuters) – Details for giving Australia’s Indigenous people a voice in parliament will follow a national referendum on the question, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Sunday.
Albanese’s centre-left Labor Party government is seeking a referendum, required to alter the constitution, on recognising Indigenous people in the constitution and requiring consultation with them on decisions that affect their lives.
Australia’s Indigenous people have toiled for generations to win recognition for injustices suffered since European colonisation in the 1700s. The constitution, which came into effect in January 1901, does not refer to the country’s Indigenous people.
The prime minister revealed the plan on Saturday in a speech at an Indigenous festival in remote Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.
In an interview with ABC television, broadcast on Sunday, Albanese said details on the voice would follow the referendum, if the proposal won support.
“The legislation of the structure of the voice won’t happen before the referendum,” he said.
Albanese said his government had not decided precisely when to hold the referendum, which he has previously said he wants in parliament’s current term.
The prime minister reiterated the Indigenous voice would not act as a third chamber in parliament. “This doesn’t change in any way the primacy of our democratically elected parliament,” he said.
The proposal to enshrine an Indigenous voice in parliament was a pledge Labor took in May’s general election, where it ended almost a decade of conservative Liberal-National coalition government.
The ousted coalition have called the plan a “positive step” but say more needs to be known about how the function would work.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney said a formal truth telling process was needed, in addition to a voice to parliament.
“One of the things that we’re thinking about at the moment is what form that would take,” Burney told ABC television while paying tribute to prominent Indigenous Australian songman Archie Roach who died on Saturday aged 66.
Indigenous advocacy group, The Uluru Statement, welcomed the prime minister’s speech, writing on Twitter: “we all now have the opportunity to make meaningful change for future generations of First Nations Peoples”.
Altering the constitution requires the support of a majority of votes in a majority of states, something that has occurred just eight times in 44 attempts.
A successful referendum would bring Australia in line with Canada, New Zealand and the United States in formally recognising indigenous populations.
(Reporting by Samuel McKeith in Sydney; Editing by William Mallard and Lincoln Feast.)