New Poll Shows Australians Poised to Reject Indigenous Voice Referendum

Australians are set to overwhelmingly say ‘No’ to a proposal to constitutionally recognize the country’s Indigenous people in a referendum on Saturday, one of the final opinion polls ahead of the vote showed. The referendum asks voters whether they agree to alter the 122-year-old constitution to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and create a body called the Voice to Parliament to advise the government. The proponents of the change say it will allow the voices of Australia’s most disadvantaged people to be heard in areas such as health, education, and justice. However, opponents say the changes will divide the country along racial lines and create legal uncertainty because courts could interpret the Voice’s constitutional powers differently. They also accuse the government of creating confusion over the reforms.

The Opposition Conservative Party and several senior figures, including former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, have led the ‘No’ campaign. It has held a significant lead over the ‘yes’ campaign, backed by the government’s center-left coalition and a swathe of celebrities and business leaders from Cate Blanchett to Patty Mills. But it has suffered from confusion about what the reforms mean, division even among Indigenous people, and a perception that constitutional tinkering demonizes white Australia.

A recent YouGov poll found the ‘no’ camp had a clear majority in four states while it was on track to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority nationally. Despite the clear trend, the ‘yes’ campaign is still on course to win because it has the support of the government’s left-wing Greens party, some independent lawmakers, welfare groups, and national religious and ethno-religious organizations. It also has the backing of Indigenous rights activists such as Lidia Thorpe, who recently quit her role as an independent senator to vote ‘yes.’

But there are many critics of the reforms, including the leader of the Greens party, Bob Brown, who has argued that it is “a cosmetic change that will only reinforce our ongoing dispossession.” Some Indigenous leaders have said they are not convinced that the Voice will improve their lives and have urged people to vote ‘no.’

The ‘no’ campaign has also pointed to the high level of Aboriginal suicides, drug overdoses, and deaths in custody to argue that more bureaucracy won’t solve the problems. But supporters of the Voice say that a ‘no’ vote will lend credence to an image abroad of Australia as a racist country with an insatiable thirst for land and will undermine efforts to address those issues. It will also reinforce a caricature of Australians as beer-swilling boors with casual racism that defies the reality of life in a country with some of the world’s most multicultural cities.

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