Record numbers of Australians enrol for referendum on Indigenous recognition

FILE PHOTO: A depiction of the Australian Aboriginal Flag is seen on a window sill in Sydney

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A record number of Australians have enrolled to vote next month in a referendum to recognise the country's Indigenous people in the constitution, according to the election commission.

Australians will be asked in a referendum on Oct. 14 whether they approve altering the constitution to enshrine an Indigenous advisory body called the "Voice to Parliament" that can give advice on matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The proposal has been struggling to get majority support with recent opinion polls showing voters are will reject it.

A record 97.7% of eligible Australians have enrolled to vote in the referendum, the Australian Election Commission (AEC) said in a statement late on Thursday.

The electoral roll has increased by 2.6% since the 2022 federal election, it said. More than 8.4 million people, 47% of the roll, were not enrolled when the last referendum was held in 1999, the commission added.

"The youth enrolment rate has also increased to 91.4% which means approximately 1.8 million 18-24 year olds are ready to vote and have their say in their first referendum,” Australian Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers said.

"In terms of First Nations enrolment, this sits at 94.1% and is the highest it has ever been," he added.

To change the constitution, the referendum, backed by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's Labor government, would require a national majority in favour and majorities in at least four of Australia's six states.

Indigenous Australians, who account for 3.8% of the population, face disadvantages including discrimination, poor health and education outcomes and high incarceration rates.

Supporters of the referendum argue the "Voice to Parliament" will bring progress for the Aboriginal community, while opponents say it would hand excessive powers to the body. Some Indigenous Australians want stronger action, including a treaty with the government.

Albanese said in a statement on Friday that Australia's Indigenous people have advocated for constitutional recognition through a Voice for years as a practical way of making real progress on issues like health and education.

"The Voice will mean we listen to people about issues that affect them, so we get better results," he said.

"Giving locals a say also means we save money because we’ll be making sure funding actually reaches the people on the ground and makes a difference."

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)