Support for Australia Indigenous referendum gaining slightly, poll shows

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. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Support for an Australian constitutional referendum on Indigenous rights and recognition has edged higher, according to a poll published on Tuesday, although a majority of voters still intend to vote no when polls close in less than two weeks.

The latest Guardian Essential poll shows the yes vote rose two points to 43% over the past fortnight, while the no vote slipped two points to 49%. The shifts are within the poll’s three-point margin of error.

With early voting now open across the country until polls close on Oct. 14, the “hard no” group in the survey of 1,125 voters outnumbered the “hard yes” respondents 42% to 30%.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Tuesday that people tended to support the referendum once they understood the details of the proposal.

“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 programs or anything like that. They’re just saying, we want to be heard.”

The referendum, the first since a failed vote in 1999 on making Australia a republic, asks voters 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.

Despite backing from sports stars and celebrities, support for the referendum 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.

Altering the constitution is notoriously difficult and only eight referendums have passed since 1901 when the country was formed. The proposal must get a majority of votes nationwide and at least four of the six states must back the change.

Unlike New Zealand or 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.

The referendum debate has divided opinion, with supporters arguing the Voice will bring progress for the Aboriginal community, while opponents say it would be divisive.

Others have described the Voice as tokenism and toothless.

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