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Australia: Rights at Core of Voice Referendum

Q&A on Constitutional Vote Supporting a Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

A member of the Gamay Dancers, a group performing in the Dharawal language, studies the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a document calling for an Indigenous Voice to Australia’s parliament, at an event celebrating Indigenous culture in Sydney, July 6, 2023.  © 2023 Alasdair Pal/Reuters

(Sydney) – A referendum in Australia on October 14, 2023, is an important opportunity for Australians to enshrine a First Nations Voice in the country’s constitution, Human Rights Watch and the Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of New South Wales said today. A new Questions and Answers document addresses key questions on the Voice as they relate to the fulfilment and enjoyment of basic human rights principles.

The Voice will be a body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that will give advice to the Australian Parliament and the government on issues that affect them. It will be an advisory body with no legislative or executive power.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have long urged the Australian government to address the marginalization and discrimination they face, including disproportionately high rates of incarceration and other systemic socio-economic disadvantages,” said Daniela Gavshon, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice is a chance for Australians to listen to First Nations people and commit to supporting their fundamental human rights.”

The Voice is a proposal that comes from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people after extensive consultations which culminated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Uluru Statement was an invitation delivered to the Australian people to walk together in a movement for a better future. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice supports Indigenous self-determination, as well as helping giving effect to their rights to political participation.

“The Voice is a clear statement of Indigenous Peoples’ human rights and is designed to offer a mechanism to ensure Australia is fulfilling its role to ensure the human rights of all its people are respected and protected,” said Professor Justine Nolan, Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute.

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