Australia has initiated early voting for a significant referendum aimed at establishing an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. If ratified, this reform would formally acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the country’s constitution and establish a permanent advisory body for them to provide counsel to the government.
Australia has not seen a successful referendum in nearly half a century. While opinion polls had consistently indicated support for this proposal, recent trends suggest that the “No” side is gaining momentum as the referendum approaches.
The majority of Australians will cast their votes on October 14th, but those unable to do so on the designated day have the option to vote at select polling centers across the nation starting from Tuesday.
The concept of the Voice to Parliament was initially put forth in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a historic document drafted in 2017 by more than 250 Indigenous leaders. While not a unanimous call to action, it is widely regarded as a crucial step toward addressing issues affecting First Nations Australians. The statement also outlines a more extensive process encompassing treaty-making and truth-telling.
However, the Voice proposal has sparked intense debate in Australia and has become a focal point for misinformation and racist abuse. Proponents argue that it will lead to improved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, which currently experience lower life expectancy and disproportionately poorer health and education outcomes than other Australians.
Opponents contend, among other things, that the Voice is primarily symbolic and will fail to bring about meaningful change. Some also argue that it may undermine the existing governmental structures in Australia.
For the referendum to pass, a majority of Australians must vote “yes,” with majority support required in at least four of Australia’s six states. The composition, functions, and powers of the proposed body, whose advice would not be binding, will subsequently be determined and debated by the parliament.
Recent polling has revealed a steady decline in public support for the Voice, but a poll conducted on Tuesday indicated that the “Yes” side is regaining ground for the first time in months.
Australia’s last referendum took place in 1999 when it rejected the opportunity to become a republic. Of the 44 referendums in Australian history, only eight have succeeded, with the most recent success occurring in 1977. None of these referendums passed without bipartisan support.