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‘Kindness costs nothing’, says Australian PM in final plea ahead of Indigenous referendum

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© FILE PHOTO: A woman holds up a ‘Yes’ supporting sign during the ‘Walk for Yes’, hosted by the Yes23 campaign for Australia’s upcoming referendum on Indigenous issues, at the Todd River in Alice Springs, Australia, September 17, 2023. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy

SYDNEY () – Australia Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made a final plea to vote in favour of recognising Indigenous people in the constitution in a referendum on Saturday, as opinion polls show the vote is set to fail.

Australians have to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a question asking whether they agree to alter the 122-year-old constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, and create an Indigenous body, called the Voice to Parliament, that can provide advice to the government on Indigenous issues.

About 5 million Australians have already voted at early polling centres, overseas and through postal votes. The latest opinion poll released on Thursday predicted the ‘No’ camp sweeping the polls with a lead of 56% over the ‘Yes’ vote that’s at 38%, with some 6% undecided.

“Kindness costs nothing,” Albanese said in a speech during a news conference from Adelaide on Friday

“This is a time where Australians have that opportunity to show the generosity of spirit that I see in the Australian character where at the worst of times we always see the best of the Australian character,” he said.

Australia’s Indigenous citizens, about 3.8% of the country’s 26 million population, have inhabited the land for about 60,000 years but are not mentioned in the constitution and track below national averages on most socio-economic measures.

In 1967 a referendum to count Indigenous people as part of the Australian population was a resounding success as it secured bipartisan political support. The 2023 referendum has not garnered united political support, with leaders of the major conservative parties campaigning for a ‘No’ vote.

Referendums are difficult to pass in Australia, with only eight of 44 referendums being approved since it became a country in 1901. Constitutional change requires a majority of votes nationwide and in at least four of the six states.

Support for the referendum, the first since voters rejected a 1999 proposal to become a republic, has ebbed over the past few months. Supporters argue the Voice will bring progress for Indigenous Australians, while some opponents say enshrining one group in the constitution would be divisive.

Thousands of ‘Yes’ volunteers were deployed around the country on Friday to engage with Australians who haven’t made up their minds yet.

“The vast, very large undecided vote is there to be taken in the next 24 hours…that’s when people are focusing,” Noel Pearson, Indigenous leader and Yes campaigner said in a radio interview.

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