CANBERRA, June 19 (AP) – Australia’s Senate voted Monday to hold a referendum this year to build Indigenous voices in parliament, an initiative aimed at giving the country’s most vulnerable minorities a greater voice in government policy right.
When senators voted 52 to 19 to approve the referendum bill, dozens of mostly Aboriginal people stood in the public gallery and applauded.
The vote in the Senate means the referendum must be held on Saturday within a two- to six-month window.
While Voice will advocate for Indigenous interests, it will not vote on laws, and the debate for and against elected institutions has become increasingly bitter and divisive.
Supporters hope the voice will improve the living standards of Indigenous Australians, who make up 3.2 percent of Australia’s population and are the most disadvantaged group in the country.
If passed, it would be Australia’s first successful referendum since 1977 and the first ever to pass without bipartisan support.
The opposition spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, Michaelia Cash, told the Senate on Monday that a majority of her colleagues would vote for a referendum “because we believe in the people of this country and believe they have a voice. “
“It’s not because we agree with what this bill is ultimately trying to achieve, which is of course irrevocably changing the constitution of this country in a way that undermines one of our most fundamental values: the equality of citizens,” Cash told the Senate vote before.
Aboriginal opposition senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price said the Voice proposal had divided Australia along the lines of race.
“If the yes vote succeeds, we will be divided forever,” Price said.
“I want to see Australia move forward as one, not split into two. That’s why I’m voting no,” Price added.
Independent Senator Lydia Thorpe, who is also Aboriginal, said she was against Voice because it could do nothing.
“It appeases the white guilt in this country by giving the poor little black guy a powerless counseling agency,” Thorpe said.
Australia’s assistant minister for Indigenous affairs, Malarndirri McCarthy, said giving Indigenous people a voice was a “very simple request” and urged respect in the debate.
“I urge all Australians to dig deep in this debate and listen to their better side,” said Aboriginal McCarthy.
“This is a pivotal moment in our nation’s history. It’s the right thing to do… now is the time to ask the Australian people,” she added.
Australia’s House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of holding a referendum last month.
Both the Liberals and the National Party, which formed a conservative coalition government for nine years before centre-left Labor was elected last year, are opposing voices.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised in his election night victory speech that his government would hold a referendum.
In 2017, a group of 250 Aboriginal leaders recommended The Voice when they met in Uluru, a landmark sandstone in central Australia that is a place of terror to traditional owners. They were representatives of the National Constitutional Convention of Indigenous Peoples, when the government sought advice on how to recognize the Aboriginal population in the Constitution.
The conservative government immediately rejected the prospect of a voice, which it likened to the third chamber of parliament. (Associated Press)
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