Australians began voting early this week for a historic referendum on Aboriginal rights to give them a "voice" in Parliament.
Voting opened on Tuesday (October 3rd) in much of Australia so that those who are not available to vote in the referendum on October 14th can vote on a reform that would recognize indigenous peoples for the first time in the Constitution.
The proposal, called "The Voice", would also give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the right to be consulted in Parliament on policies that affect them.
A minority of voters support the reform
But polls indicate that a minority of voters support the reform. In front of a polling station in central Sydney, activists from both sides hand out leaflets. A supporter of the reform wrote "yes" in chalk on the sidewalk. "I want to give recognition to the first Australians," said Karen Wyatt, 59.
Trevor Veenson, a 36-year-old nurse, will vote "no." "For me, it divides, it causes more problems than necessary," he says. Supporters of the "no" vote believe that the reform will add a layer of bureaucracy and grant privileges to Aborigines.
Polling stations opened Tuesday in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory Canberra. They had opened the day before in the rest of the country.
"It's time to recognize the oldest culture in the world"
According to recent polls, just over 40% of voters are in favour of the "yes" vote, while some 60% are in the "no" camp. A Guardian Essential survey published on Tuesday indicates that the trend towards the "yes" vote is strengthening, but remains in the minority.
Librarian Yasmin Tadich, 50, hopes there will be a "groundswell" in favor of reform. "It's time to recognize the oldest culture in the world ... We must welcome and value First Nations Indigenous peoples."
Australian Aborigines, whose ancestors had lived on the continent for at least 60,000 years, make up less than 4% of the population.
They statistically have shorter and poorer lives than their compatriots, a more basic education and are much more likely to end up in prison.