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Australian PM fights to save key referendum

XINHUA | Updated: 2023-10-14 07:35

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese shows his support on Friday for a "yes" vote during a visit to Adelaide. MICHAEL ERREY/AAP IMAGE/AP

SYDNEY — Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese issued an emotional, final-day plea on Friday to salvage a landmark referendum on indigenous rights, his voice trembling as he told voters: "Kindness costs nothing."

On Saturday, Australians will decide whether to recognize First Nations peoples for the first time in the 1901 Constitution and create an indigenous advisory body — a so-called Voice — for policies that affect their communities.

Opinion polls give the reforms little hope. The latest survey by market research company YouGov, which was published on Thursday, found that 56 percent of Australians intended to vote against altering the Constitution.

"There is nothing, no cost to Australians showing kindness, thinking with their heart, as well as their head when they enter the polling booth tomorrow — and voting 'yes'," Albanese said.

"My goodness, kindness costs nothing. Thinking of others costs nothing," he told journalists in the South Australian state capital of Adelaide. "This is a time where Australians have that opportunity to show the generosity of spirit that I see in the Australian character."

Albanese reminded people of the harsh lives endured by many First Nations peoples, whose ancestors lived on the continent for more than 60,000 years before white settlement.

More than 200 years after British colonization, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have life spans eight years shorter than other Australians, a suicide rate twice as high, and double the mortality rate for mothers in childbirth.

"We can do better," he said, arguing that most Australians' lives would not be impacted if a "Voice" was created to help craft better policies for indigenous peoples.

There are about 984,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, representing 3.8 percent of the population.

A victory for the "yes" camp "may just make life better" for indigenous people, Albanese said."'No' takes us nowhere — we are living in 'no' right now."

Support for the "yes" camp has slumped since the opposition conservative Liberal Party, led by former police officer Peter Dutton, announced its opposition.

The "no" campaign has thrived on concern about the powers the "Voice" body would wield, warning it would divide Australians and embracing uninformed voters with the slogan: "If you don't know, vote no."

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