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AUSTRALIA is due to hold a referendum on recognising Aboriginal people in the constitution within three years, the minister for indigenous affairs said yesterday.
Aborginial and Torres Strait Islanders, who have lived on the island since prior to the British colonisation, remain a marginalised population which has long sought an official voice in the Australian government.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt promised a constitutional referendum on the issue within the three-year term of the current parliament.
But he added that there would not be a referendum if it was believed the proposed chage would not be approved.
Mr Wyatt, the first Indigenous person to hold his ministerial post, said during a speech in Canberra that “there are diverse views” in the country on granting constitutional recognition to Australia’s first people.
“I am prepared to walk with people on all sides of politics, all sides of our community to hear their views and reach a point in which they can agree,” he said.
Critics said it was unclear after years of false starts whether the Australian government would be “true to what Indigenous people asked for in the Uluru Statement.”
The statement, first presented by Indigenous leaders at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention near the sacred rock of Uluru in central Australia, is a road map for recognition for Indigenous people.
While voting in a constitutional referendum is compulsory in Australia, since 1901 just eight of 44 proposals for constitutional change have succeeded.
Shadow minister for indigenous Australians Linda Burney, who is also Aboriginal, said she expected a “pretty ugly” no campaign run against the proposed change, but believes the “Australian public, in the main, is ready for constitutional reform.”
Indigenous Australians have long been subjected to discriminatory government policies, including internment, forced sterilisation and the partitioning of children from their families.
They also face higher rates of imprisonment, youth suicide and illness than other Australians.
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