CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s main opposition party decided Wednesday to oppose the government’s model for constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples, seemingly dooming prospects for a successful referendum this year.
A referendum has failed to change the Australian Constitution since 1977, and bipartisan support from the major political parties is widely seen as a prerequisite for success.
But lawmakers from the conservative Liberal Party, second largest after the ruling center-left Labor Party, said they would oppose the government’s proposal to create a so-called “Indigenous Voice” parliament. The Voice will be an elected group responsible for advocating for Indigenous interests in Parliament, but will not have a vote on laws.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said his lawmakers would prefer Indigenous people to be represented by regional and local “Votes” rather than in the national capital, Canberra.
Senior Liberal lawmakers will campaign for a No vote when Australians are expected to decide in a referendum whether to enshrine the vote in the constitution between October and December, Dutton said.
“Creating another national body from Canberra, as the Prime Minister is proposing, divides our country, it does not unite it and it will not deliver results on the ground,” Dutton told reporters.
“What I fear about the vote is that it changes our system of government forever and we end up with no practical net benefit for people in indigenous communities, and that would be the worst of both worlds.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Liberal Party’s stance made it more difficult to implement constitutional changes.
“Yes, it will. Of course it will. That’s why it’s so disappointing that (Dutton’s) press conference today was all about politics,” Albanese told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“It’s not about me, Peter Dutton or any other politician. It is about Australia, how we see ourselves, whether we respect and recognize the fact that we share this great island continent of ours with the oldest continuing culture on Earth, and whether we have a process where we are heard – we are a voice giving to Indigenous Australians. Albanese added.
Australia’s Indigenous Minister Linda Burnie, the first Indigenous woman to hold the role, stuck to the wording of the referendum questions and expressed confidence that the referendum would succeed.
“We’ve worked hard, we’ve worked faithfully, and we’ve worked diligently to make sure that the question and the changes are the ones that deliver what Voice is intended to do, and it’s going to be very, very clear in terms of the role. from the parliament,” he said.
The Nationals, the Liberals’ junior partner in the last coalition government, announced last November that their lawmakers opposed the Vote on grounds including that it would divide Australia’s population along racial lines.
A poll published in The Australian newspaper on Wednesday found 54% of respondents were in favor of the Voice proposal, while 38% were against it. The poll is based on a survey of 4,756 voters between February 1 and April 3. It has a margin of error of less than 3 percentage points.
Many say public support for constitutional change should be higher.
Indigenous Australians of the Torres Strait Archipelago off the northeast coast are culturally distinct from mainland Aboriginal populations. The two peoples make up 3.2% of Australia’s population and are the country’s most disadvantaged ethnic group.
The Voice was originally proposed by a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advocates in 2017.
Changing the Australian Constitution has never been easy. Of the 44 referendums held since 1901, only eight have been held.
George Williams, a constitutional lawyer and author of a landmark book on Australian referendums, says that doesn’t mean bipartisanship is essential to future success.
“It’s been 20 years since we’ve had a referendum, the political environment is very different to a number of previous referendums, and it’s also the case that the rust vote of the major parties is much lower than that. was for any previous referendum,” he said.