Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he is optimistic the country will vote in favor of changing the nation’s constitution to recognize Indigenous people, but will not move to push the issue through legislation if the government’s proposal is rejected.
(Bloomberg) — Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he is optimistic the country will vote in favor of changing the nation’s constitution to recognize Indigenous people, but will not move to push the issue through legislation if the government’s proposal is rejected.
Campaigning for the referendum has become increasingly divisive in recent weeks. The proposal, known as the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, would include an Indigenous advisory body to Parliament in the constitution. Major polls show Australians will vote “No” at the Oct. 14 poll, although a rare rise was recorded last week.
“I’m optimistic,” Albanese said in an interview with ABC Television Sunday. “What I see on the ground, whether it’s in Wangaratta or whether it be Shepparton or Sydney, or Brisbane, Melbourne, the places I’ve been — Hobart, Adelaide — in the last week have been extremely positive. The feedback is that when people have those conversations, they are willing to vote “Yes”.”
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Early referendum balloting has begun, including in remote Indigenous communities, with local media reporting more than 2 million people have already cast their votes. As the campaign enters its final days, Albanese said he would respect the outcome. “If Australians vote “No”, I don’t believe that it would be appropriate to then go and say ‘oh, well you’ve had your say but we’re going to legislate anyway’.”
Since the country’s federation in 1901, only eight out of 44 referendums have been successful, the most recently in 1977.
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Deputy Liberal Party leader Sussan Ley described the referendum as a “lose-lose” situation. “Whatever the result is on Saturday, it will be bad, divisive, and unhappy for Australians the next day,” Ley told Sky News television. “So we do need to bring the country together.”
Indigenous Australians experience high levels of social and economic disadvantage compared with the non-Indigenous population, including higher rates of imprisonment and unemployment, lower wages and a shorter life expectancy. The Indigenous Voice was originally suggested by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders in 2017.
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