Australians will go to the polls to decide whether to enshrine an Indigenous Voice in the constitution on October 14. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the date for the country’s first referendum in 24 years in a speech in Adelaide.
Mr. Albanese said The Voice had support from a vast cross-section of the country. “Referendums come around much less often than elections — this will be the first one this century. On October 14, you are not being asked to vote for a political party or for a person, you’re being asked to vote for an idea, to say ‘Yes’ to an idea whose time has come.” His announcement marks the start of a six-week campaign on the proposed constitutional change.
The referendum will ask Australians to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of Australia by enshrining an advisory body known as The Voice. For the referendum to succeed, a majority of states need to vote ‘Yes’ as well as the majority of Australians.
Mr. Albanese said First Nations people had been advocating for constitutional recognition through a voice for years. “Legal experts have endorsed it. People on all sides of the parliament have backed it. Faith groups and sporting codes and local councils and businesses and unions have embraced it,” he asserted, adding that: “An army of volunteers from every part of this great nation are throwing all of their energy behind it. Now, my fellow Australians, you can vote for it.”
The prime minister said the country could not afford to vote against the idea of an Indigenous Voice. “Voting ‘No’ leads nowhere. It means nothing changes. Voting ‘No’ closes the door on this opportunity to move forward. Vote ‘Yes’ for recognition, vote ‘Yes’ for listening, vote ‘Yes’ for better results. Vote ‘Yes’ is a change for the better.”
‘No’ campaign spokesman Warren Mundine condemned what he labeled as the “divisive” Voice debate. “This thing is about division and dividing this country, and the racial abuse that we’ve been hearing over the last few months. It’s all Albo. He’s the one who’s started this, he’s the one who brought it out, and if he thinks that the answer to fixing everything is a magic wand, then he’s not answering the real question, which is how do we help people who are having tremendous problems in Aboriginal communities out there.”
Mr. Mundine stressed he and his family “fought to be treated the same as every other Australian. I will swear on my mother’s and father’s grave that I will fight this, and I’ll be out there every day championing the wonderful country that we’ve got, which is not a racist group of people,” he procliamed.
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price agreed the proposal “is about division,” saying: “I don’t expect that to take place within our country, to be treating Indigenous Australians differently to the rest of Australia because of our racial heritage. Like all other Australians, we have created equality in this country. It is wrong to suggest we have not had a voice.”
The Aboriginal tent embassy is also calling for a ‘No’ vote.’ Australia’s longest-running Indigenous protest claims a constitutionally enshrined advisory body would only become “another governing body to deal with the Aboriginal issue.” Nioka Coe-Craigie, the daughter of one of the four original protesters said: “I don’t think we need to be added to a constitution that oppresses our people. We’ve been here for 50 years. No politician has come down here to consult us.”
Former prime minister Tony Abbott described Mr. Albanese’s speech as “long on emotion and short on argument” He insisted it won’t be an end to recognition if the ‘No’ vote prevails .
The referendum will be the first time Australians vote on whether to change the constitution since the country vetoed becoming a republic in 1999.
Australian Associated Press (AAP) reports South Australia was chosen for the launch as it is viewed as a key battleground state for the poll. Queensland and Western Australia are widely expected to cast a ‘No’ majority. Tasmania is also leaning towards a ‘No’ vote with a recent poll showing just 42% support. It is anticipated New South Wales and Victoria will swing behind the ‘Yes’ campaign.
A survey of around 600 South Australians by think tank The Australia Institute indicates 43% back an Indigenous Voice To Parliament while 39% are opposed. The undecided 18% were evenly split in their leaning, putting ‘Yes’ ahead at 52-48.
Other polls have the ‘Yes’ vote lagging across the nation and on a downward trend. but campaigners say the mood on the ground is more hopeful. AAP writes that “History is against The Voice succeeding, with just eight of the country’s 44 referendums being successful.”
With Australian Associated Press