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Australians poised to reject indigenous rights in landmark vote

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SYDNEY: Australian voters look set to reject greater rights and recognition for Aboriginal citizens on Saturday (Oct 14), in a bitterly fought referendum that has rekindled the country’s long history of racial strife.

Almost 18 million voters will be asked to decide on a government-backed proposal to recognise indigenous Australians in the 122-year-old constitution for the first time.

The proposal would also create an indigenous Voice, a representative body that can have a say on issues that affect indigenous peoples battling poorer health, lower incomes and higher barriers to education.

Centre-left Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said that a “yes” vote would end “200 years of broken promises and betrayals, failures and false starts”.

He and other supporters believe the measures would help make amends for Australia’s often brutal history of colonisation and race-based repression – what many consider their nation’s original sin.

Europeans first landed on Australian shores in 1606, an arrival that heralded centuries of subjugation for Aboriginal and other groups that had thrived on the continent for millennia.

Today, indigenous Australians have the same rights as any other citizen, but inequality is pervasive.

The life expectancy of indigenous Australians is about eight years less than for other citizens, according to government statistics.

Indigenous children are less likely to go to school, less likely to be literate and twice as likely to die in childhood.

The star-studded “yes” campaign was backed by a swathe of business leaders, sports luminaries and celebrities – from Cate Blanchett to Patty Mills to Ash Barty, as well as the country’s centre-left government.

But after holding a massive early lead in the polls, “yes” has trailed heavily since the opposition conservative party, led by ex-police officer and defence minister Peter Dutton, announced its opposition.

Critics of the reforms see the project as constitutional tinkering that demonises white Australians and would do little to improve the lot of indigenous communities.

The “no” campaign has thrived on concern about the powers the Voice body would wield, and by embracing uninformed voters with the slogan: “If you don’t know, vote no.”

A recent Resolve poll showed the “no” vote leading “yes” by 56-44.

Barring “a catastrophic polling failure” the “no” campaign is destined to win, according to pollster and analyst Kevin Bonham.

“A turnaround of that size in public opinion will not happen. And even if there is a large turnaround, we are at the stage where quite a few people have already voted,” he said, pointing to more than 2 million ballots cast in early voting.

Article was originally published from here

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