© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A depiction of the Australian Aboriginal Flag is seen on a window sill at the home of indigenous Muruwari elder Rita Wright, a member of the “Stolen Generations”, in Sydney, Australia, January 19, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
By Jill Gralow and Praveen Menon
ADELAIDE/SYDNEY (Reuters) – A First Nations group leading the push for the constitutional recognition of Australia’s Indigenous people called on all citizens on Thursday to vote in favour of the change to help bring the country together.
Australia is preparing for a landmark referendum to change its constitution to include an Indigenous “Voice”, which is a representative body that can advise parliament on policies affecting the Aboriginal and Torres Islander people.
The more than 800,000 Indigenous people and their ancestors have inhabited the land for about 65,000 years. But there is no mention of them in Australia’s constitution.
Dean Parkin, director of “From the Heart”, a campaign group, said voting yes was the referendum was a chance for all Australians to connect.
“It means you get to connect your sense of what it means to be Australian to the oldest continuous culture on Earth,” he told an audience in Adelaide where the campaign was launched.
“It is a very small thing, it’s a modest thing, and yet very profound.”
The government is expected to introduce a bill in parliament in March outlining the proposed changes to the constitution. Once approved in parliament, the referendum will be put to Australians. The only way to change the constitution is by holding a referendum.
“We are kicking off a process that is going to result in millions of conversations between now and the referendum,” Parkin said.
“It’s time, history is calling,” another speaker said at the event.
The referendum is one of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s key initiatives and he has staked much of his political capital on it.
There have been 44 proposals for constitutional change in 19 referendums in Australia, but only eight have been approved.
In the last referendum in 1999, Australians voted against changing the constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the British monarch and Governor-General being replaced by a president appointed by parliament.