The Voice referendum: What are the Yes and No campaigns’ main points ahead of Saturday’s vote

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Australians have been asked to vote in a referendum to change the Constitution just 44 times in the past 122 years.

The historic nature of Saturday’s vote means stakes are high, as the nation decides whether to vote Yes or No to the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

From what the main arguments are to where to cast your vote, this is your ultimate last-minute guide.

Yes camp’s main argument

The Yes campaign says a Voice to Parliament will provide better outcomes for Indigenous people as well as giving them formal recognition.

It argues that the Voice needs to be constitutionally enshrined to make a “powerful statement” to recognise the First Peoples of Australia and “drive practical change”.

The Yes camp’s central claim is that listening to advice from Indigenous people will lead to better results for First Nations communities – and ultimately save money.

“Governments from both sides have invested billions in programs that haven’t fixed problems or reached communities. A Voice will help us listen to locals and save money,” the official Yes case reads.

“Voting No means nothing will change. It means accepting we can’t do better.”

No camp’s main argument

The Voice will not help to close the gap and improve the lives of Indigenous Australians, the No camp argues.

It characterises the Voice as “more bureaucracy” within government, arguing that there are already many Indigenous representative bodies “at all levels of government” and a centralised Voice would ignore the needs of remote communities.

The No campaign has also argued that the Voice is “legally risky” and will “open the door for activists” who it claims want to change the flag, give reparations to Indigenous people and abolish Australia Day.

“If there is a constitutionally enshrined Voice, these calls would grow louder,” the No campaign has said.

What top pollies say

One of the election commitments made by Anthony Albanese during the last campaign was to fully support the Uluru Statement from the Heart – which calls for the establishment of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

The prime minister has described the proposed Voice as “an unflinching source of advice and accountability”, saying it would not act as a third chamber, have a rolling veto or be a ‘blank cheque’.

‘[The Voice is] a body with the perspective and the power and the platform to tell the government and parliament the truth about what is working and what is not,” he said.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton is opposed to the Voice, but has committed to holding another referendum on just the matter of Indigenous recognition in the Constitution should he ever become prime minister.

“Enshrining a Voice in the Constitution is divisive, it will divide the country down the middle,” Mr Dutton said.

“It will not provide the practical outcomes. It will change the way of government very significantly, because of the broad words. And I think it would grind the process of government decision-making to a near halt.”

What the referendum asks

Australians will be asked the following:

“A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve of this proposed alteration?”

The referendum proposes adding a new Chapter IX – Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to the end of the Constitution.

The proposed wording of that amendment is:

In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:

1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;

2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

3. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.

The latest polls

Roy Morgan’s latest poll, conducted up to Sunday and released on Tuesday, shows 50 per cent of Australians plan to vote No in the referendum while 45 per cent will vote Yes.

Just five per cent remain undecided, but the polling firm noted that “past experience with surveys conducted before previous referendums show undecided voters are more likely to end up as No”.

To pass, a referendum must achieve a double majority, meaning at least four of the six states must vote Yes and an overall majority of voters must also support it.

The votes of the ACT and the Northern Territory are only counted in the overall national vote.

Roy Morgan surveying on the Voice over the last two weeks shows support is highest in Victoria and Tasmania.

However, the No case is clearly leading in Queensland and Western Australia, while also dominant in New South Wales and South Australia, which are expected to vote No.

When and where to vote

Voting in the referendum is compulsory for those aged 18 and over who are enrolled.

The Australian Electoral Commission will operate more than 7000 polling places across the country on Saturday.

They are typically hosted at schools, community centres and council buildings, and opening at 8am and closing at 6pm local time.

You can cast your vote at any polling place within your state or territory. If you’re interstate on Saturday, you must visit a designated interstate voting centre.

The AEC website has a tool to help find your nearest polling centre.

There are also details about polling centres that are disability accessible and have supports available for those who are blind or have low vision.

For anyone travelling or living abroad, the AEC and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade offer in-person voting in most Australian Embassies, Consulates and High Commissions.

As of Sunday, more than 2.2 million Australians had already voted at an early polling centre and some 1.9 million people had applied for a postal vote.

AEC commissioner Tom Rogers said early voting centres remain open until Friday for those unable to make it in person on Saturday.

“If you’re busy on Saturday or aren’t certain of your circumstances then you need to plan where and when you’ll be able to cast your vote.” Mr Rogers said.

Details about the location and opening hours of early voting centres is available on the AEC website.

The deadline to apply for a postal vote passed on Wednesday evening. Those who have received a postal ballot must complete and return it within 13 days.

When we’ll know the result

Counting begins when polls close at 6pm on Saturday and news.com.au will bring readers live, up to the minute coverage of the results.

Smaller polling places are expected to report results quickly.

“The structure of a referendum means basically every polling place in the country has the same ballot paper and it’s a two-candidate contest, Yes versus No in one box,” ABC election analyst Antony Green told The Australian.

“We are not calling 151 electorates, but it’s more difficult because we don’t have this predictive stuff based on history. But in another sense it’s simpler because you are operating on statewide votes.”

Depending on the gap between Yes and No, there could be an outcome on the evening, but if it’s close then Australians may wait some time for an outcome.

It could even come down to postal votes, with the AEC saying it has received more than 1.7 million postal vote applications.

“Like in a federal election, if the overall result is close it may require up to 13 days after polling night for a result to be known,” the AEC says.

“This is the time frame allowed under referendum legislation for postal votes to come back to the AEC for inclusion in the count.”

What is the Constitution?

The Australian Constitution is the country’s most important document, setting out various rules that guide the government and critical institutions from the High Court to the Defence Force.

Voting in a referendum decides whether amendments to the Constitution are made.

Just 44 national referendums have been held since 1901, with only eight being carried.

In many cases, referendums in the past have asked multiple questions at once, and so there have been 19 occasions in which amendments have been made to the Constitution.

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