The controversial referendum on establishing an Indigenous Voice to Parliament divides Australia’s Indigenous minority.
Canberra: Voting closed in half of Australia’s states on Saturday, marking the country’s first referendum in a generation. This referendum aimed to decide whether to address Indigenous disadvantages by establishing a new advocacy committee within the constitution. The polls first closed in New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania at 6 p.m. local time (07:00 GMT), while South Australia, Queensland, and Western Australia, in different time zones, had their polling stations close three hours later.
The proposal for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament sparked deep divisions within Australia’s Indigenous minority and the broader community. The historic Old Parliament House, now a museum, served as a voting station for this event.
The proposed Voice would be a committee composed of and selected by Indigenous Australians to provide advice to the Parliament and government on matters affecting the country’s most disadvantaged ethnic minority. Supporters of the Voice hope that incorporating Indigenous perspectives will lead to more effective government services and better outcomes for Indigenous lives.
Indigenous Australians make up only 3.8% of the population and, on average, die eight years earlier than the broader population. They also face a suicide rate twice the national average and contend with diseases in remote Outback areas that have been eliminated in other affluent nations.
Almost 18 million people were eligible to vote in this referendum, which is Australia’s first since 1999. Approximately 6 million people cast early ballots over the past three weeks. Around 2 million postal votes will be counted up to 13 days after the polls close on Saturday. The result may become clear late on Saturday unless the vote is close.
For the proposal to pass, a majority of Australians must vote “yes,” and a majority in at least four of the six states must also support it. Recent opinion polls have suggested a strong majority of Australians oppose the proposal. Earlier in the year, a majority supported the Voice before the “no” campaign gained momentum.
Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers, who oversaw the referendum, reported that voting had been mostly orderly, with only a few instances of campaigners harassing voters at polling stations. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese traveled to every Australian state and mainland territory in the past week to encourage support for the Voice. He defended the proposal against critics who claimed it had created division in the Australian community. If the proposal passes, it will be the first successful constitutional amendment since 1977 and the first to pass without bipartisan support from the major political parties.