A referendum begins in Australia to recognize the voice of Aboriginal people

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The referendum to amend Australia's constitution to enshrine the recognition of indigenous peoples began on Monday with early voting. Support for the proposal has increased according to the latest polls, however, they continue to indicate that the majority of voters intend to reject the change.

The early vote on whether to recognize Indigenous Australians in the constitution and create a "Voice to Parliament" to give them an avenue to advise the government on issues affecting First Nations Australians began on Monday.

The latest Guardian Essential poll shows that 'yes' support had risen two points to 43% in the last two weeks, while 'no' support fell two points to 49%. The changes are within the survey's three-point margin of error.

Voting in the first referendum held in Australia since the rejection of a proposal to become a republic in 1999 will end on October 14.

Supporters of the proposal argue the Voice would bring progress for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, while opponents say it would cause division.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who introduced the referendum, said people tended to support the reform once they understood its details. "Frankly, it's a pretty humble request," Albanese said on Triple M Hobart radio in the state of Tasmania. "They're not asking for a veto or the right to fund programs or anything like that. They're just saying 'we want to be heard.'"

Unlike New Zealand and Canada, Australia does not have any treaties with its indigenous people, who make up about 3.2% of its population of 26 million. Indigenous groups were marginalized by British colonial rulers and are not mentioned in Australia's 122-year-old constitution.

Despite endorsements from sports stars and celebrities, support for the proposal has plummeted in recent months, and respondents surveyed last week said the vote distracted from issues such as the cost of living and housing.

Some critics have described the Voice as a mere symbolic and powerless organ.

Others, like Ken Harris, a volunteer with the "no" campaign, said he was concerned about the changes that could occur if the proposal were voted on. "Noel Pearson, one of the proponents of the 'yes' side, has said this: 'the Voice is just the first door,' so what worries me a lot is what's behind the door," he said.

"I don't like to see the country divided according to race," he argued. "I think we should all be equal Australians, equal in all aspects and not have a special classification for one in particular."

Changing the constitution in Australia is notoriously difficult and only eight referendums have been held since 1901, when it became a country. The proposal must win a majority of votes nationwide and at least four of the six states must support the change.

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