Australia’s 45th referendum failed Saturday as polling results revealed a 60 percent majority of Australians rejected the proposal to recognise the country’s First Nation people within Australia’s Constitution through establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice within Parliament. Over 17 million Australians were enrolled for the compulsory vote, with many expats being required to attend embassies around the globe in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s poll.
The referendum took place 235 years since the British colonisation of Australia, 61 years after Indigenous Australians first received the right to vote and 15 years since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s landmark apology speech for the years of mistreatment and harmful government policies towards Indigenous Australians, which involved the forced removal of children from their families.
The referendum was intended to be an additional measure in the nation’s continuing attempts to achieve reconciliation and recognition of Indigenous Australians within contemporary Australia. Accordingly, the defeat has been perceived as a significant setback by many Australians. However, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Jacinta Nampijinpa Price criticised the referendum:
This referendum has yet been another one of those agendas where it was suggested that 80% of Indigenous Australians supported this proposal when we knew that was not the case, when I knew, having spoken to people throughout the Northern Territory, to Indigenous People from the Northern Territory right across the country, particularly in my role as the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, that a vast group of Indigenous Australians did not support this proposal. And it has been a shame, that throughout the campaign, we have been accused of misleading this country through disinformation and misinformation, when it was a campaign of no information whatsoever.
Price further criticised Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for not providing the Indigenous community with further resources regarding The Voice: “This … was a proposal that the Prime Minister failed to provide detailed information on. When we kept asking questions, we weren’t receiving any answers whatsoever. We could not be shown with any clarity, or it could not be demonstrated, how this proposal was supposed to support our most marginalised Indigenous Australians.”
Opposition leader Peter Dutton, also spoke against the referendum: “The referendum has not been successful and I think that’s good for our country … The Coalition, like all Australians, wants to see Indigenous disadvantage addressed. We just disagree on The Voice being the solution.”
Despite the remarks of Price and Dutton, many Indigenous Australians expressed support for the referendum. Australian lawyer and leading Indigenous ‘Yes’ campaigner Noel Pearson stated, “Nothing will change until we have a partnership between the Government and Indigenous people. … The Voice … will be a partnership between … the national parliament and the national government of the day and it is going to be so important to get that partnership right. It is about building a new partnership with the Government that empowers our people to take charge of our destiny and future.” Pearson further commented, “My last pitch message is don’t slam the door on our children. Imagine how horrible it is going to be that our children learn that the country has turned its back on them.”
Albanese addressed the nation following the failed outcome:
Our Government will continue to listen to people and communities. Our Government will continue to seek better outcomes for Indigenous Australians and their children and the generations to come. This is not only in the interest of Indigenous Australians, it is in the interest of all Australians, to build a better future for our nation.
Constitutional change may not have happened tonight, but change has happened in our great nation. Respect and recognition is given at events. The fullness of our history has begun to be told.
My fellow Australians, our nation’s road to reconciliation has often been hard going … but through the decades, there has been moments of progress as well. That’s why I say tonight is not the end of the road and it is certainly not the end of our efforts to bring people together.
Indigenous support service, 13YARN, reported receiving a high volume of calls both in the lead up to, and following the outcome of, Saturday’s poll.