Campaigning for historic vote on October 14 has exposed sharp divides in society and within the Indigenous community.

Melbourne, Australia – Days away from an historic referendum on Indigenous rights in Australia, the racism that has marred the campaign for weeks has intensified amid flagging public support for the proposed constitutional “Voice to Parliament”.

On Thursday, a video was released on social media showing a hooded man making a series of racist remarks against Indigenous peoples, before burning an Aboriginal flag and giving a Nazi salute.

The man, who was unidentified, also singled out Indigenous Independent Federal Senator Lidia Thorpe, who has been subject to a barrage of online racism and at times, death threats, since she entered the political arena in 2020.

The threats have got worse in the lead-up to the referendum, scheduled for October 14.

“People want to kill me out there. They don’t want my voice to be heard,” a visibly upset and angry Thorpe said at a press conference in response to the video. She railed against Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, accused the police of failing to protect her and challenged those who sent the video.

“I’m ready to fight for exactly what I went into parliament for and that is my country, my people. And I won’t stop. And I’m not scared. So come at me.”

Controversially, Thorpe – who identifies with the Djab Wurrung, Gunnai and Gunditjmara nations  – is against the Voice, a Labor Party initiative which seeks to implement a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous advisory body in the federal government.

'Yes' Campaigners in Alice Springs. One is carrying a placard reading 'Open your heart to our voice'
The ‘yes’ campaign has been lagging in the opinion polls for months 

Instead, Thorpe advocates primarily for truth-telling and treaty as part of a Blak Sovereign Movement that would also demand that Indigenous deaths in custody be addressed as a priority.

‘Emboldening bigots and trolls’

The lack of support for the constitutional Voice to Parliament is a stark contrast to the hugely successful 1967 referendum on Indigenous rights.

At the height of the civil rights movement, 90.77 percent of Australians voted to count Indigenous people in the census and allow the federal government to make laws concerning Indigenous peoples.

But this year’s vote has largely split the nation, with the latest polls suggesting 43 percent will vote ‘yes’, and 49 percent ‘no’.

In Australia, a referendum asks voters to simply respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a proposed constitutional amendment; a more than 50 percent ‘yes’ vote is required at a national level to make any change. Majorities are also required within each of the country’s six states. Voting is compulsory.

Since the initiative was announced last year, public debate has been marred by misinformation and racism, from hardliners in the ‘no’ campaign as well as the Liberals, Australia’s main opposition party, and its leader Peter Dutton. The Liberal Party, who were in government until 2022, are against the proposal.

In May this year, Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney reprimanded Dutton in parliament for spreading “misinformation and scare campaigns” and accused Voice critics of being “hell-bent on stoking division”.

Dutton’s campaign in misinformation even prompted Voice architects The Uluru Statement to include a fact-checker, titled Seven Peter Dutton Lies on the Voice to Parliament Corrected, on their webpage.

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