Australia engages NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal on Indigenous reform

Former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, speaks during a CNBC interview about joining the board of Papa John’s International Inc., on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S. March 22, 2019. REUTERS/ Brendan McDermid/File Photo

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SYDNEY, Aug 27 (Reuters) – Former U.S. basketball star Shaquille O’Neal will help Australia’s new government implement reforms for an indigenous voice in parliament, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Saturday, alongside of the NBA Hall of Fame.

The centre-left Albanese Labor Party government is calling for a referendum, needed to change the constitution, on recognition of indigenous peoples in the constitution and mandatory consultation with them on decisions that affect their lives.

Details on the so-called indigenous voice in parliament will follow the national referendum on the issue, which the government wants to hold during the current legislature.

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“I’m here in your country, whatever you need from me, let me know,” O’Neal told Albanese at a press conference in Sydney, before leaving without answering questions.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney told the press conference that O’Neal had asked to be involved and described the change mission as “a noble task”.

Albanese said O’Neal, a four-time NBA champion, had a proven track record in the United States working for social justice and “uplifting marginalized people.”

“We want to build the widest possible support and we want to engage with people who can connect with young people in particular but with all sections of society,” Albanese said.

“Shaq has this record of…bringing together people from different backgrounds, which is consistent with our approach.”

O’Neal had agreed to make videos about the issue, the prime minister said.

Labor pledged to offer a referendum during the campaign for May’s general election, which ended nearly a decade of rule by Conservative Liberal-National coalition governments.

Indigenous peoples in Australia have worked for generations to have injustices recognized since European colonization in the 1700s. The constitution, which came into force in 1901, makes no reference to the country’s indigenous peoples.

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Reporting by Sam McKeith; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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