Australians are due to have their say in a referendum about whether to change the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. 

The proposed VTP would be an independent and permanent advisory body, providing advice to the Australian parliament and government on matters that affect the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Members of the Voice would be chosen by First Nations people based on the wishes of local communities.

But a new poll has indicated that support for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament has slipped to less than a majority for the first time.

The Resolve Political Monitor asked more than 1600 registered voters whether they would yes or no at the upcoming referendum. The poll results showed 51 per cent were opposed to the VTP and would vote no, while 49 per cent were in favour of the proposal and would vote yes.

The results follow opposition to VTP by political leaders and indigenous representatives in the Gunnedah region.

Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton joined his Nationals Party colleagues and signalled his intention to vote no on the VTP. He outlined his reasoning in a speech to parliament recently. 

“In Canberra I had the opportunity to make a speech on the hypocrisy of big corporations, the Labor government and the Greens when it comes to the Voice to Parliament,” Mr Coulton said. 

“Their actions do not match their words when they speak of empowering Aboriginal people while at the same time ripping opportunities and vital services out of the areas in which they live.

“Many of my constituents are Aboriginal people and I will do all I can to support them. I have great respect for many Aboriginal leaders in our communities who are doing a tremendous job. I am in favour of constitutional recognition, but I do not see this Voice translating to measurable positive outcomes for people in my electorate.

“What I am opposed to is a body that, once it is in place, is there forever. If it comes to a position where the people I represent feel they aren’t being represented by that body, what is the mechanism for them to have some say and get their voices through?

“I can tell you, from speaking to my constituents, they are concerned about a voice that is selected. They are concerned that there will be people who may have political allegiances making up the Voice. 

“What we’re seeing in this debate is, I think, white middle-class Australia being given an opportunity to assuage some sort of guilt … we need to be doing more practical things to support our people, not this virtue-signalling we’re seeing with this.”

Mr Coulton highlighted that a referendum is the only mechanism by which Australia’s constitution can be changed and since 1901 only eight of 44 changes proposed by this process have been successful. 

His comments echoed those of his Nationals leader, David Littleproud, who said the VTP will add another layer of bureaucratic red tape and not deal with real issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“The Nationals recognise the immense challenges impacting many Indigenous communities,” Mr Littleproud said. 

“We believe the key to addressing these serious issues is by government delivering frontline evidence-based solutions and having dedicated initiatives to address 17 Closing the Gap targets.”

The Nationals are also concerned the Voice will undermine fundamental aspects of democracy in Australia.

“A core component that underpins our free, liberal democratic society in Australia is the fundamental principle that every citizen is considered equal under the law,” he said. 

“A constitutionally enshrined advisory body to parliament based solely on a person’s race is the antithesis of the values that we share as The National Party.”

Others critical of the VTP proposal include Aboriginal woman, Gwen Griffen, from Gunnedah.

She has also indicated her intention to vote no.

The outspoken critic of the VTP said there were too many uncertainties about the proposal in its current form.

“The VTP is racist and divisive to Australia,” she said. 

“The yes vote will deliver a new unelected race-based body with as yet, no known form.  

“If the voice is established the demands will come – a treaty, more money and so on.

“I believe the VTP stems from greed and power. Aboriginals will not be advantaged by this group. They have never approached the grass roots people. These academics have brains but no commonsense. They don’t speak for me. I don’t trust this voice.”

For a referendum to be successful, it must achieve what is called a double majority – that is a majority of Australians nationally vote yes to approve the change, and a majority of the six states also vote yes – four of the six states. 

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