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Australians to vote on whether to recognize Indigenous people in constitution

Australians will vote on October 14 on proposed legislation to create a so-called “Indigenous Voice to Parliament” in the nation’s first referendum in a generation.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the date for the referendum on Wednesday, sparking more than six weeks of intense campaigning by both sides of the dispute.

The referendum will enshrine in the constitution an “Indigenous Voice to Parliament”, a body of advocates aimed at giving the country’s most disadvantaged ethnic minority a greater say in government policy.

Albanese urged people to vote “yes” as polls showed more than 80 per cent of Australia’s indigenous population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, intended to do so.

“Let’s be very clear about the alternative. because a “no” vote leads nowhere. That means nothing changes,” Albanese told 400 Voice supporters in Adelaide.

A “No” vote closes the door to this opportunity to move forward, I say today, don’t close the door to constitutional recognition, don’t close the door to listening to communities to get better results, don’t close the door. on an idea that came from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and don’t close the door on the next generation of Australians. Vote yes,” Albanese added.

A dark haired man wears a black shirt with YES written in yellow over a red design
Filmmaker Dean Parkin and Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition co-chair Rachel Perkins are seen at the launch of the Australian Indigenous Constitutional Recognition Campaign in Adelaide on February 23. (Jill Gralow/Reuters)

A heated and divisive debate

Australia has not held a referendum since 1999 and not since 1977.

No referendum has ever passed without bipartisan support, and the major parties remain divided on the Vote.

More than 800,000 indigenous people and their ancestors have inhabited the land for at least 60,000 years. They include several hundred groups that have their own history, traditions and languages.

Proponents argue that giving indigenous people a say in the policies that affect their lives will result in less disadvantage. Indigenous Australians make up 3.8 per cent of the population and have a life expectancy eight years shorter than the wider Australian population.

Opponents argue that courts could interpret Voice’s constitutional authority in unpredictable ways, creating legal uncertainty. They also say The Voice will be the biggest change to Australian democracy, dividing the nation along racial lines.

Albanese has long been confident the referendum will succeed, although polls show majority support for the vote has waned in recent months as public debate has grown more heated and divisive.

With body paint on his face and hands, an individual opens a vessel containing smoking herbs
A Kaurna elder performs a traditional smoking ceremony with an audience on February 23 in Adelaide, Australia. (Jill Gralow/Reuters)

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