What is Australia’s Indigenous Voice to Parliament campaign?

By Praveen Menon

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia plans to hold a federal referendum later this year to constitutionally recognize its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through the establishment of a representative vote that will advise parliament on a non-binding basis.

Here’s what you need to know about Australia’s Voice to Parliament campaign:

WHO ARE AUSTRALIA’S INdigenous Peoples?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are the indigenous people of Australia.

They make up about 3.2% of the population. The more than 800,000 indigenous people and their ancestors have inhabited the land for around 65,000 years. They include several hundred groups that have their own history, tradition and language.


Australia’s indigenous population shrank after British colonization in 1788, when they were stripped of their land, exposed to new diseases, forced to work in slave-like conditions and killed by colonizers.

The marginalization of Aboriginal Australians has continued into recent years.

Aboriginal people score below the national average on most socioeconomic measures and suffer disproportionately high rates of suicide, domestic violence and incarceration. Their life expectancy is about 8 years lower than that of non-indigenous peoples.

One in three Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families between the 1910s and the 1970s in order to integrate them into white society. The government apologized in 2008 for the so-called “stolen generation”.


First Nations people in other former British colonies continue to be excluded, but some countries have better protected their rights.

Canada recognizes the rights of its indigenous people under the 1982 Constitutional Act.

New Zealand created Maori seats in Parliament, allowing indigenous people to vote for candidates for those seats or to vote in general elections.

Te Reo Maori is recognized as an official language and is used in schools, universities and public offices.


Indigenous peoples were included in Australia’s census figures for the first time following a referendum to amend the constitution in 1967, more than 60 years after the country’s founding as a nation in 1901.

In 2017, some 250 First Nations leaders gathered at sacred monolith Uluru in central Australia and authored the Uluru Declaration of the Heart, calling for a constitutional First Nations voice.

The then conservative government rejected the call.

In 2022, Labor’s Anthony Albanese became Prime Minister and said Australians would have their say in a referendum to include a vote for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Parliament.

Australia has only passed eight of 19 referendums so far.


A poll by the Australian newspaper found that 56% of voters support the constitutional amendment, while 37% oppose it.

The referendum is one of Albanese’s key issues, and he has devoted much of his political capital to it.

Left-wing Greens, independent lawmakers, several charities, national religious and ethno-religious groups are backing the referendum.

But there are opponents on both sides of the political divide.

Outspoken Indigenous leader Lidia Thorpe left the Green Party over concerns about the Voice proposal. She wants a treaty between the government and the indigenous people, similar to what exists in New Zealand and Canada.

The conservative Liberal Party has not said if it would support a “yes” vote, and the rural-based National Party said it would oppose it. The Liberals and the Nationals have a long-standing coalition agreement.

A “No” or “See a Better Way” campaign has proposed replacing the referendum with an all-party parliamentary committee to focus on the rights of native titleholders.

(Additional reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by Himani Sarkar)


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