SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian government said it would announce the voting date for a landmark referendum to constitutionally recognise the country’s Indigenous people next Wednesday as it battles a dip in support for the proposal in recent months.
Australians will be asked to vote either in October or November on whether they support altering the constitution to include a “Voice to Parliament”, an Indigenous committee to advise Parliament on matters affecting them.
“Very soon, our nation will have a once in a generation chance to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution – and make a positive difference to their lives with a Voice,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said.
“I will be campaigning for constitutional recognition. Because if not now, when?,” Albanese said in a statement on Wednesday.
Albanese has staked significant political capital on the referendum. Since Australian independence in 1901, only eight of the 44 proposals for constitutional change have been approved.
Opinion polls out early this month showed the referendum would fail if it was held now, adding pressure on the government to improve its messaging. To succeed, a referendum requires a national majority of votes as well as a majority of votes in at least four of the six states.
Making up about 3.2% of Australia’s near 26 million population, the Aboriginal people were marginalised by British colonial rulers and are not mentioned in the 122-year-old constitution. They were not granted voting rights until the 1960s and track below national averages on most socio-economic measures.
The referendum debate has divided opinions with supporters arguing the Voice will bring progress for the Aboriginal community, recognise the 65,000 year-old culture and “unite the nation”. Opponents say it would hand excessive powers to the body, while others have described it as tokenism and toothless.
(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Michael Perry)