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Australia's Indigenous Voice referendum fails

October 14, 2023

The Voice to Parliament would have been an Indigenous advisory body that could weigh in on laws affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Roughly six in 10 voters voted against the proposal.

Demonstrators in support of the Voice to Parliament marching in Melbourne in September
The "Yes" camp is lagging behind in opinion pollsImage: Sydney Low/ZUMA/picture alliance

Australia on Saturday rejected a proposal to recognize Indigenous people in the constitution, in a major setback to the country's efforts for reconciliation with its First Peoples.

With almost 70% of the vote counted, the "No" vote accounted for 60% of votes counted, while "Yes" accounted for 40%, roughly in line with polls just before the vote. 

The "Yes" campaign had conceded defeat almost immediately after the first exit polls showed a clear trend towards a fairly comfortable win for the other side.

Australians reject Indigenous Voice to advise parliament

Albanese says 'not the end of our efforts'

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who had campaigned for a "Yes" vote in a campaign that revealed fault lines in Australian society on the issue, urged a divided nation to now come together in a "spirit of unity and healing." He said defeat would be "very hard to bear" for the vast majority of Aboriginal Australians who had supported the motion. 

"Tonight is the not the end of the road and is certainly not the end of our efforts to bring people together," Albanese said in a televised news address.

"From tomorrow we will continue to write the next chapter in that great Australian story. And we'll write it together. And reconciliation must be a part of that chapter," Albanese added.

Opponents said the proposal, which included the creation of an Indigenous body to advise the government, would divide Australians along racial lines without reducing Indigenous disadvantages.

"The prime minister was warned over the course of the last 16 or 17 months not to proceed with the divisive referendum and he owes the Australian public an apology for that," opposition center-right Liberal Party leader Petter Dutton said.

What to know about the Voice referendum 

Polls closed on Saturday evening across the country.

By the end of the referendum, almost 18 million people were expected to have cast their ballots as voting is compulsory in Australia.

The referendum asked them to vote "Yes" or "No" on whether to establish a new Indigenous advisory body — known as the Voice to Parliament — that would be consulted about laws affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Referendums are difficult to pass in Australia as they require a majority of voters, as well as a majority of states, to succeed — although ultimately Saturday's results looked set to be less closely contested than expected earlier in the campaign.

Voice to Parliament's critics pointed to unclear definition, powers

Indigenous people account for 3.8% of Australia's population.

Supporters of the Voice proposal believe enshrining an Indigenous advisory body in the constitution would help address some of the problems they face, including a lower life expectancy and a far higher incarceration rate.

The main campaign against the proposal has argued that the Voice would be divisive and that its powers have not been clearly defined.

Meanwhile, some Indigenous opponents argue that the proposal does not go far enough, and have demanded a treaty instead.

Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for at least 65,000 years and are considered one of the oldest living cultures in the world.

rm, mm, zc/lo (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)