SYDNEY (Reuters) – Thousands rallied in Australia on Sunday to support recognising the country’s Indigenous people in the constitution, a proposal that is struggling ahead of a referendum next month.
If approved on Oct. 14, the measure would enshrine Indigenous people in the constitution and set up an advisory body to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people input on policies that affect them.
Indigenous Australians, who account for 3.8% of the population, face disadvantages including discrimination, poor health and education outcomes and high incarceration rates.
But the “Voice to Parliament” proposal appeared on track for defeat, a poll showed last week, the fifth monthly survey in a row to find voters against the change.
Yes23, the group behind “Walk for Yes” events, said around 20,000 people attended in Brisbane, Australia’s third-biggest city, with rallies scheduled in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Hobart, Canberra, Darwin and Newcastle.
Many attendees wore T-shirts and held placards emblazoned “Vote Yes!”, Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) footage showed.
To change the constitution, the referendum, backed by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor government, would require a national majority in favour and majorities in at least four of Australia’s six states.
Most Indigenous people favour the referendum, but some, like prominent No campaigner Warren Mundine, say it is a distraction from achieving practical and positive outcomes and would not fully resolve the issues affecting them.
“If we can do just three things – accountability, jobs and education – then we’ll resolve most of the problems we’ve got,” Mundine told ABC.
Since Australian independence in 1901, only eight of 44 proposals for constitutional change have been approved.
(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney; Editing by William Mallard)