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RECORD numbers of Australians have enrolled to vote in a referendum that would create an Indigenous advocacy body, as the first ballots for constitutional change are set to be cast in remote outback locations next week, officials said today.
The referendum, to be held on October 14, would enshrine in Australia’s constitution an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
The Voice would be a group of Indigenous representatives who would advise the government and legislators on policies that affect the lives of the nation’s most disadvantaged ethnic minority.
When enrollments closed on Monday, 97.7 per cent of eligible Australians had signed up to vote, Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said.
That was the largest proportion of any electoral event in the 122 years that the Australian government has existed. The previous record was 96.8 per cent for the federal election in May last year.
Mr Rogers said high public interest in the Voice appeared to be a key factor in the large enrollment.
“There is a factor that where people are interested in the event and there’s a lot of media coverage of the event, they're more likely to enrol and participate,” Mr Rogers told reporters.
Voting is compulsory in Australia, so voter turnout is always high. Of Australia’s population of 26 million, 17,676,347 are enrolled to vote in the referendum.
Early voting will begin on Monday at remote and far-flung Outback locations. Officials will use helicopters, boats and airplanes to reach 750 of these voting outposts in the three weeks before October 14.
The referendum is Australia’s first since 1999 and potentially the first to succeed since 1977.
The Voice referendum could be the first in Australian history to be passed without bipartisan political support with the centre-left Labour Party government supporting the Voice and the main conservative parties opposed.
Business, religious and sporting groups all support the Voice.
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