Australia warned of 'shame' if Indigenous referendum fails

Australia warned of 'shame' if Indigenous referendum fails
Australia warned of 'shame' if Indigenous referendum fails

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Yidaki Didge and Aboriginal dance group perform with 7 years old Amelia Street in Sydney on July 3, 1996 as part of Bandemonium, Darling Harbour's Winter Music Festival. The October 14, 2023 referendum voting opened across a swathe of Australia on a reform that would recognise Indigenous people in the 1901 constitution for the first time. — AFP pic

SYDNEY, Oct 9 — Voters will bring "shame" on Australia if they reject an October 14 referendum on Indigenous rights, a leading advocate warned Monday, as polls pointed to defeat.

Supporters have five days left to convince a sceptical electorate to vote "yes" to recognising Indigenous people in the 1901 constitution for the first time.

The reform would create a "Voice" — an Indigenous body with the right to be consulted about issues that affect First Nations peoples battling poorer health, lower incomes and higher barriers to education.

Australians face a "moral choice", said Noel Pearson, an Indigenous lawyer and land rights activist who is one of the architects of the "Voice" proposal.

"One choice will bring us pride and hope and belief in one another and the other will, I think, turn us backwards and bring shame to the country," he told Australian broadcaster ABC.

"'Yes' is a moral choice and 'no' would be a travesty for the country, and we will possibly never live it down."

A Newspoll survey published in The Australian late Sunday showed a 63-37 per cent split against the Voice, the latest in a string of polls indicating the referendum will fail.

Australian media are increasingly focusing on the implications of defeat.

Pearson insisted the only poll that counts is the referendum.

"Every minute and every hour of the next five days is dedicated to those who have not yet made up their minds," he said.

If people vote against the reform, it will become part of Australian history, Pearson said.

'The world is watching'

"We will look ourselves in the mirror and we will see who we are, and it will not be a good picture for us."

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese urged people to vote "yes".

"The world is watching," the prime minister told ABC radio.

The centre-left Labor Party leader said it was "hard" to change the constitution, with referendums requiring a national majority, as well as majority in at least four of the six states.

The "Voice" proposal is opposed by the conservative Liberal Party opposition, which argues it would be ineffective and open divisions in society.

Albanese said disinformation and "absurd debates" swirling around the Voice — such as whether it would affect interest rate decisions — had been "terrible".

"I plead with your listeners to just focus on what the question is," he said.

"I sincerely hope that we do get a positive outcome and that's my focus in the coming week."

More than 200 years since British colonisation, Indigenous peoples — whose ancestors have lived on the continent for more than 60,000 years — have lives about eight years shorter than other Australians, poorer education and are far more likely to die in police custody. — AFP

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