Australia promises vote on recognition of Indigenous people | News | DW | 10.07.2019
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Australia promises vote on recognition of Indigenous people

Australia is to hold a referendum on whether to give explicit recognition to Indigenous people in its constitution. Reformers want descendants of Australia's first inhabitants to have a greater voice in decision-making.

Australia will hold a national vote on whether to recognize Indigenous people in its constitution within the next three years, a government minister said on Wednesday.

While Australia's first settlers arrived on the continent some 50,000 years before European colonialization, the status of their descendants has never been enshrined in law.

Read more: Protests across Australia against 'Invasion Day' holiday

Making the announcement, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said the referendum would take place before the next general election in 2022.

Wyatt, himself the first Aboriginal Australian to be given the ministerial brief for Indigenous Affairs, said it was important for the community to have a say in decision-making.

"What I want is recognition that strengthens this nation, that places us on the birth certificate of our country, because we do have a future, we do have a past and we do live and walk together."

"Even the most well-intentioned modern policies and programs have still tended to take a top-down, command and control approach," he said. "As if Aboriginal people didn't know what they needed or wanted."

Read more: German museum returns indigenous remains to Australia

Wyatt said Indigenous people needed to have a local, regional and national voice. But he also said time was needed to ensure that constitutional change was successful.

"Constitutional recognition is too important to get wrong, and too important to rush," said Wyatt, adding he has already started to seek counsel from Indigenous leaders on the details.

Wyatt said he would seek inspiration from the country's 1967 referendum, when Australians voted to amend the constitution to include Indigenous people in the national census. 

There are some 700,000 Indigenous Australians in a population of 23 million. They track close to the bottom across the range of economic and social indicators, with disproportionately high rates of suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and imprisonment.

rc/jm (dpa, Reuters)

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