Australia to hold referendum on recognizing Indigenous peoples

Historic announcement . . .

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt announced today that the Australian Government will hold a national vote on whether to recognize Indigenous people in the constitution before the next general election in 2022. Minister Wyatt is the first Aboriginal Australian to be given the ministerial brief for Indigenous Affairs and spoke to the importance of the community having a say in national-level decision-making. "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."

Meaningful policy change . . .

The announcement came at the beginning of National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee Week in Australia, an annual celebration of the 60,000-plus years of history and achievements of Indigenous Australians. But as in Canada, many challenges remain: The country’s 700,000 Indigenous Australians continue to experience disproportionately high rates of incarceration and suicide and generally score lower on a range of economic and social indicators than the rest of the population.

Canadian-style reconciliation?

The Queensland state government recently settled an A$190-million class action lawsuit on behalf of 10,000 Indigenous workers who had their wages “given” to the state from 1939 to 1972 under the Protection Act. It was the fifth-largest class action settlement ever in Australia. But it remains to be seen whether or not, or to what extent, Australia will adopt reconciliation initiatives like those launched in Canada, such as Truth and Reconciliation and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.