Cook Islanders holding Australian passport are being called on to vote today in a controversial referendum which seeks to recognise the First Peoples of Australia.
In person voting for Australians, who are living in or
visiting the Cook Islands and enrolled to vote in the 2023 referendum, will be
held today between 10am and 2pm at the Returned Services Association across the
road from Rarotonga International Airport.
No appointment is required, and those who think they
may be eligible to vote can check their current electoral enrolment on the
Australian Electoral Commission website.
On Saturday, Australians will have their say as to
whether to change the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia
by establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
Voters have been asked to vote yes or no on a single
question. The question on the ballot paper will be: “A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First
Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?”
Cook Islands News contacted Australian High
Commissioner to the Cook Islands Phoebe Smith for comment.
For one Cook Islands Aussie, the debate has shown how
much “hatred and vitriol there is towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Jacki Brown, now Rarotonga based, spent many years
living and working in Australia.
This proposed Voice will be a body that may make
representations to the Commonwealth Parliament on matters relating to and on
behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
“This proposed change has been a long time in the
making,” Brown said.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been
demanding civil and land rights for over 200 years.
“The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was set up in 1972 under
a beach umbrella in the grounds opposite Parliament House in Canberra. It still
exists and is the longest running protest in the world.”
Brown said the Uluru Statement from the Heart is a
single page document and confirms Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes
as first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and adjacent islands,
and governing under their own laws and customs for over 60 millennia.
“It defines sovereignty as a spiritual notion of the
ancestral ties between the land and its first peoples, and states that it was
“The statement references the history of inequality
with the highest incarceration rates in the world, deaths in custody and
removal of children from their families: the stolen generation that continues
to this day.”
Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese promised as
part of his election campaign in 2022 to propose a change in the Constitution
for a Voice to Parliament.
Brown said there is an example of an Indigenous Voice
to Parliament in Scandinavia with the 50,000 Sámi people in Norway who have had
a representative body for 34 years.
“It is a bit different to Australia’s proposal as the
39 representatives are elected every four years. The common principle is
indigenous representation on matters that relate to them.”
Brown said Australia has had 44 referendums, and only
eight carried, because a double majority must be achieved nationwide as well as
separate majorities in a majority of states.
The last referendum in 1999 on becoming a republic
failed to achieve a majority.
Brown said 1967 was the last successful referendum
with three questions asked.
“Firstly, about increasing the numbers of members of Parliament
and two questions regarding Indigenous Australians: to give Federal government
power to make special laws for Indigenous Australians in states and lastly
whether they should be included in the official population counts (census) for
constitutional purposes. The term Aboriginal race was used in the questions for
the first time.
“In order for the 2023 referendum to succeed, there
needs to be bipartisan support from the major parties. The opposition LNP -
Liberal and National parties are firmly in the No camp on the grounds that a
Voice will be divisive. The Blak Sovereign Movement are No voters as their
starting point is sovereignty never ceded and treaty.”