• Academic, author and filmmaker Larissa Behrendt wrote and directed the landmark documentary, After the Apology (Supplied)Source: Supplied
An online survey shows almost three quarters of Australians support constitutional recognition. But does that reflect the sentiment among the Indigenous community?
Ella Archibald-Binge

20 May 2016 - 5:47 PM  UPDATED 20 May 2016 - 5:49 PM

ABC’s Vote Compass asked almost 200,000 people whether the Constitution should recognise Indigenous people as Australia’s first inhabitants. 72 percent said yes.

Aboriginal academic Larissa Behrendt says the result is largely unsurprising given ABC’s target audience.

“If you look at the sort of demographic that's attracted to this ABC-type polling, I think that that is probably not quite so surprising - you'd expect them to be a little bit more across issues like constitutional recognition,” she told NITV.

In recent years there have been a series of polls measuring support for constitutional recognition. In May 2015, Recognise released polling figures showing that 75 percent of all Australians and 87 percent of Indigenous Australians would vote yes to recognition.

However in stark contrast, a social media survey by IndigenousX a month later claimed that 58 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were unsupportive of the Recognise campaign.

'More Indigenous people are in favour of constitutional recognition if it's more than just symbolism.'

“I think what it does highlight is that there still are a lot of questions within the Indigenous community and a lot of that comes down to the fact that people, not knowing what the model is, are still a bit unsure as to whether they want to sign up to it or not,” says Professor Behrendt.

“More Indigenous people are in favour of constitutional recognition if it's more than just symbolism, so I think the real test for the debate for the referendum will be when the model is finally on the table.”

Megan Davis, a constitutional lawyer at UNSW who was recently appointed to the Referendum Council, agrees voters needs a better understanding of what recognition will entail.

She says this will be determined through the council’s ongoing community consultations.

“The only true polling will be after the Referendum Council does its consultations and we have a more concrete idea of what recognition means.”

Professor Behrendt says questions around treaty should be a factor in polling.

“One of the feedbacks from the (ABC survey) was that, particularly Indigenous participants, did want to have some ability to talk about a treaty and its relationship with constitutional recognition,” she says.

“I think that's fairly reflective of what we hear in the general community, where there is actually a push for a treaty to be there as part of the constitutional recognition debate or instead of it.”

The Prime Minister has previously said that a referendum on constitutional recognition would be ‘feasible’ in 2017, marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum.

Historically, referendums in Australia have been difficult to pass, requiring a majority of ‘yes’ votes in the majority of states. Since 1901, only eight referendums out of 44 have been successful in changing the constitution. 

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