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Australia holds a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

Early voting kicked off in Australia on Monday in a historic referendum to create an Indigenous parliamentary vote recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as part of the country’s constitution.

The referendum to decide on the creation of an advisory body on legislation for indigenous peoples is scheduled for 14 October. There are numerous polling stations set up across the country where one can cast one’s vote in advance.

Early voting takes place in Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory on Monday. Similarly, early voting centers will open in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory on Tuesday.

Eligible early voters for early voting include those living outside their voting constituencies, people more than eight kilometers away from a polling place, travelers, those unable to leave work on voting day, citizens with serious illnesses, and those serving prison sentences of less than three years.

Some 17.7 million citizens on the electoral roll are called to vote. Failure to do so carries a fine of 20 Australian dollars ($12.9).

Voters must choose between a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote to pass “A Proposed Law: to amend the Constitution to recognise Australia’s First Peoples by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice”.

The initiative seeks to establish an independent body, often referred to as “The Voice”, whose mandate is to represent the interests of Indigenous Australians and advise the Government and Parliament on matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

If approved, the body would form part of a new three-paragraph chapter to be inserted into Australia’s 1901 Constitution under the title “Chapter IX Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples – 129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander votes”. However, early polls indicate uncertainty about the success of this proposal.

The referendum, endorsed by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, requires more than 50 per cent of the vote nationwide and a majority in at least four of Australia’s six states. Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people was one of Prime Minister Albanese’s key promises during the 2022 election campaign.

Indigenous peoples, who make up 3.8% of Australia’s 26 million people, have been mistreated, dispossessed of land and systematically discriminated against by institutions, organisations and society since colonisation.

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