Australia's Indigenous recognition bill passes first hurdle

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SYDNEY, May 31 (Reuters) -Legislation to hold a referendum to recognise Australia's Indigenous people in the constitution cleared its first parliamentary hurdle on Wednesday as it was passed in the House of Representatives.

Australians will be asked to vote in a referendum, likely to be held between October and December, on whether they support altering the constitution to include "Voice to Parliament", a committee that can advise the parliament on matters affecting its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.

Aboriginal people, making up about 3.2% of Australia's near 26 million population, track below national averages on most socio-economic measures and are not mentioned in the 122-year-old constitution. They were marginalised by British colonial rulers and not granted voting rights until the 1960s.

In a final vote in the lower house of parliament, 121 lawmakers voted in favour of the bill - called the Constitution Alteration bill - while 25 voted against, which included members from the National Party and the main opposition Liberal party.

Lawmakers clapped and cheered as the final numbers of the vote were read out.

"We're one step closer to holding a referendum on constitutional recognition through the Voice in 2023," Linda Burney, the Minister for Indigenous Australians said in a tweet after the outcome of the vote was announced.

The bill will still need to go through the senate next month, after which the government will set a date for the polls.

A successful referendum would finally give constitutional recognition to Australia's Indigenous people, who are one of the most incarcerated people in the world.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Christopher Cushing


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