Support for Australian Indigenous recognition up slightly with vote underway

  • World
  • Tuesday, 03 Oct 2023

FILE PHOTO: A depiction of the Australian Aboriginal Flag is seen on a window sill at the home of indigenous Muruwari elder Rita Wright, a member of the "Stolen Generations", in Sydney, Australia, January 19, 2021. Picture taken January 19, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Support for a proposal to amend Australia's constitution to enshrine recognition of Indigenous people has edged higher, according to a poll published on Tuesday, although most voters intend to reject the change in a referendum now underway.

Early voting on whether to recognise Indigenous Australians in the constitution and create a "Voice to Parliament" to give them an avenue to advise the government on matters affecting First Nations Australians began on Monday.

The latest Guardian Essential poll showed support for the "yes" vote had risen two points to 43% over the past two weeks, while backing for a "no" vote slipped two points to 49%. The shifts are within the poll's three-point margin of error.

A "hard no" group in the survey of 1,125 voters outnumbered "hard yes" respondents by 42% to 30%.

Voting in Australia's first referendum since a 1999 rejection of a proposal to become a republic closes on Oct. 14.

Supporters of the proposal argue that the Voice would bring progress for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, while opponents say it would be divisive.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who introduced the referendum, said people tended to support the reform once they understood its details.

"It is a pretty humble request frankly," Albanese said on Triple M Hobart radio in Tasmania state.

"They're not asking for a right of veto or the right to fund programmes or anything like that. They're just saying 'we want to be heard'."

Unlike New Zealand and Canada, Australia has no treaty with its Indigenous people, who make up about 3.2% of its population of 26 million. Indigenous groups were marginalized by British colonial rulers and are not mentioned in Australia's 122-year-old constitution.

Despite backing from sports stars and celebrities, support for the proposal has slumped in recent months, with respondents in a poll last week saying the vote distracted from issues like the cost of living and housing.

Some critics have described the Voice as tokenism and toothless.

A campaign volunteer for the "no" vote, Ken Harris, said he was concerned about policy changes that might come should the proposal be vote in.

"Noel Pearson, one of the advocates for the 'yes' side, has said this, 'the Voice, is just the first door' so it’s what else is behind the door that worries me a great deal," Harris said.

"I don’t like to see the country divided according to race," he said. "I think we all should be equal Australians, equal in every respect and not have a special carve out for one particular race."

Altering the constitution in Australia is notoriously difficult and only eight referendums have passed since 1901 when it became a country.

The proposal must get a majority of votes nationwide and at least four of the six states must back the change.

(Reporting by Lewis Jackson, Cordelia Hsu and Jill Gralow in Sydney; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel)

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