Australians will vote on October 14 on whether they want to change the constitution to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, a defining moment in the struggle for Indigenous rights in the country.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the date for the landmark referendum in Adelaide on Wednesday, describing it as a once-in-a-generation chance to unite the nation.
“October 14 is our time…it’s our chance,” Albanese told a cheering crowd.
“It’s a moment calling out to the best of our Australian character. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people this has been a marathon. For all of us, it is now a sprint.”
Australians will now face a six-week campaign before voting in the referendum, where they would be asked whether they support altering the constitution to include a “Voice to Parliament”, an Indigenous committee to advise federal parliament on matters affecting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.
Any change to Australia’s constitution requires a national referendum.
Australia is a global laggard on relations with its Indigenous people, in comparison to many other developed nations including Canada, New Zealand, EU nations and the U.S.
It has no treaty with its Indigenous people, who make up about 3.2% of its near 26 million population and track below national averages on most socio-economic measures.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people are not mentioned in Australia’s constitution despite inhabiting the land for over 65,000 years.
Pat Anderson, an Aboriginal woman who is co-leading the campaign for the change, said a majority of Aboriginal people support the Voice to Parliament because they know it will improve outcomes.
“Between now and referendum day, we ask everyone to remember that we as First Nations Peoples know what works best for our communities and we believe that a Voice will finally be the step to improve our peoples’ lives,” she said in a statement.
Opposition Liberal party leader for Indigenous affairs, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price said the Voice to Parliament was an “elite proposal” that would divide the country.
“It is that old rule of divide and conquer that I can’t stand for,” she said in a news conference aired on TV.