Australia asks miners to back referendum on Indigenous rights

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Australia on Thursday urged its multi-billion dollar mining industry to support the government’s plans for a referendum to give the country’s Indigenous people a voice in parliament.

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor government is seeking a referendum, required to alter the constitution, on recognizing Indigenous people in the constitution and requiring consultation with them on decisions that affect their lives.

The proposal to enshrine an Indigenous voice in parliament was a pledge Albanese’s Labor party took to the May general election where it ended almost a decade of conservative Liberal-National coalition government.

“This voice will provide a means for First Nations people to more directly put forward their views to parliament on issues that directly affect them such as the mining and cultural heritage protection,” Australian Resources Minister Madeleine King said at an international mining conference in Sydney.

“I urge the resources sector to play a positive and energetic role in ensuring voice campaign is a success. After all, First Nations people of Australia were the first to inherit the extraordinary natural endowment this continent and the resources sector owes First Nations people so very much.”

Australia’s constitution does not refer to the country’s Indigenous people, despite generations of protests by the first nations people for recognition of the injustices they suffered since European colonization in the 1700s.

A successful referendum would bring Australia in line with Canada, New Zealand and the US in formally recognizing indigenous populations.

Australia’s resources sector accounts for about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and the mining sector directly employs about quarter of a million people, King said in her speech.

More than 60 percent of Australia’s resources projects operate on land covered by a claim or determination for the rights and interests to First Nations traditional owners.

Indigenous rights and sustainable growth are major themes at the mining conference in Sydney, attended by more than 7,500 people from the mining and energy sector, including global giants like BHP Group and Shell

The comments at the forum come as thousands of Australians held vigils across the country this week to mark the death of 15-year-old Indigenous boy Cassius Turvey, who died after allegedly being attacked while walking after school in a north-eastern Perth suburb.

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