The Voice Referendum in Australia will come to a vote on October, creating an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
Approximately 3.8% of Australians today are indigenous, a group which lumps together both the native Aboriginal people of the mainland, and the Torres Strait Islanders, who come from islands off the northeast coast. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, their numbers are increasing, reflecting a decline in stigma against identifying as aboriginal, increasing life spans, and an end to practices such as removing aboriginal children to white families.
Australia is unique among former British colonies in that no treaty was ever signed between the colonists and the indigenous inhabitants. Their land was simply taken, and until 1967, they weren’t counted among the Australian population at all unless they could prove a colonial ancestor, nor could they be a citizen unless they swore to adopt “the manner and habits of civilized life” and cease interacting with other Aboriginal people.
The question of the Voice is to create a panel to represent the needs, concerns, and wants of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It isn’t a voting body, or one with right of veto over lawmakers, but it would be a constant, visible presence representing a people who have not historically been represented in their own land.
Proponents argue that the Voice is needed because Indigenous Australians die years younger than other Australians, have a suicide rate twice that of the wider community, have worse rates of disease and infant mortality and fewer education opportunities. In a civilized country, this is regarded as a failure of society to see the problems facing a given group of people, or to prioritize their care.
Opponents say the Voice would be the biggest change to Australian democracy in the country’s history and the biggest ever change to Australia’s constitution. They say the courts rather than the Parliament would determine the Voice’s power and Australians would be permanently divided “in law and spirit.”