Australian Bishops: Indigenous Voice referendum also ‘a moral issue’

The upcoming Australian Indigenous Voice referendum is not just a political issue, but also a moral one, according to Australia’s Catholic Bishops.

By Sr. Nina Benedikta Krapić, VMZ

Ahead of the 2023 Australian Indigenous Voice referendum, set for 14 October, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has issued a statement inviting voters to educate themselves on the issues and to listen to the concerns of others.

Australians will be voting on whether to alter the Constitution by recognizing the indigenous peoples of Australia and establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Engage in dialogue

In their statement, the bishops say the issues surrounding the proposed Constitutional change “are not just political”, but are also “moral and ethical”.

They do not offer advice on whether people should vote Yes or No on the referendum. The bishops instead urge voters to consider and seek to understand past, present and future of their country.

“We need to see the truth of what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have suffered and the disadvantage many experience to this day. Justice demands that we seek to rectify this disadvantage,” the bishops write.

The bishops call for Australians to read the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This Statement is addressed to non-indigenous Australians, and calls for reform to help realize indigenous rights by giving them a voice in Parliament.

Also, the bishops encourage people of Australia to talk to others, to listen to their hopes and fears, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

They call people to “act in a way that commits to redressing the disadvantage suffered by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and will allow them to reach their potential”.

The bishops recalled Pope Francis’ words about engaging with indigenous peoples of the Amazonia region on issues unique to them: “They are our principal dialogue partners, those from whom we have the most to learn… Their words, their hopes and their fears should be the most authoritative voice at the table… Otherwise, the result would be, once again, ‘a plan drawn up by the few for the few’.”

Australia’s bishops say the same could be said of the indigenous peoples of Australia.

Australian referendum

The 2023 Australian Indigenous Voice referendum will be held on 14. October 2023.

If approved, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice would “make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

Also, Parliament would “have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.”