Ex-Pacific leaders call on Australia to approve Indigenous vote
Former leaders of Pacific islands express their close association with traditional communities as indigenous peoples of island nations.
As October 14 nears, former Pacific Islands leaders voiced that they "pray that Australians find it in their conscience" to vote yes for constitutional recognition of First Nations people.
On Tuesday, eight former leaders and top diplomats, including former Kiribati President Anote Tong, former Palau President Tommy Remengesau, and former Marshall Islands President Hilda Cathy Heine, expressed their close association with traditional communities as indigenous peoples of island nations.
In a statement to Reuters, the Pacific Elders Voice group said, "We support the momentum by First Nations in seeking to redress the injustices faced by First Nations of Australia, and pray that Australians would find it in their conscience to support this initial step towards a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament."
They believed that voting yes and passing the referendum would count as a "first step" toward a treaty with First Nations people.
This comes as polling this month shows that the October 14 referendum is possibly going to fail, even after rallies in various parts of the country, such as Melbourne and Canberra, took place in an effort to advocate for the vote that would grant Indigenous Australians (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) a constitutionally enshrined right called "Voice" to be consulted on policies that concern them.
So far, since Australian independence occurred in 1901, only eight out of 44 proposals for constitutional change have been passed.
A reputation on the line
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's government has highlighted historical trade by Australia's First Nations people with the Pacific Islands as a pointer to strong modern ties.
Aboriginal Australians are considered one of the oldest continuously existing cultures on the globe. They first populated the continent about 65,000 years ago.
In an interview for Vanuatu broadcaster VBTC during a Pacific Islands visit in July, newly appointed Ambassador for First Nations People Justin Mohamed described the referendum as a "very important time" for the country, acknowledging, however, the presence of "a lot of dialogue both for and against."
Opponents of the vote, however, believe that it would not only bring on an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy but would "give special privileges" to Indigenous peoples; they justify their answer by saying there are insufficient details about it.
Meanwhile, former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop previously argued that a vote for no would send a "very negative message" that would stain Australia's international reputation.