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In the recent Australian referendum regarding the Voice, which aimed to establish a body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide advice to the country’s Parliament on legislation affecting this marginalized community, the proposal was defeated with a significant 60% majority of voters opposing it. This marked a missed opportunity to amend the Constitution for the first time in nearly half a century in the direction of a more inclusive philosophy.
The referendum outcome was both clear-cut and polarizing. It deeply hurt Indigenous Australians who had long held onto the hope that a conciliatory approach could rectify the historical injustices stemming from the country’s colonial past.
In response, the nation’s leader, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, delivered an impassioned message. “This moment of discord does not define us, and it will not drive us apart,” he stated emotionally earlier this month, following the rejection of the constitutional referendum in all but one state and territory. “This does not mark the end of our pursuit of reconciliation.”
However, Indigenous leaders found it challenging to accept this proposition, as they viewed the result as an endorsement of a troubled status quo in a country that lags behind other colonized nations in its efforts to reconcile with its original inhabitants.
Australian Indigenous Denied Representation
After a week of silence following the defeat of the voice referendum, Indigenous groups have expressed their sorrow and disappointment. Some have characterized the negative result as a display of extreme racism by white Australians. On October 14, Australians decisively rejected the proposed Indigenous voice to parliament, with the highest approval rate recorded in the Australian Capital Territory at 61%, followed by Victoria at 45%. Queensland had the lowest approval rate at 31%.
After pledging to remain silent for a week to mourn after the vote’s results were made clear, groups spoke out on Sunday, condemning the “coded messages and false information” propagated by some in the campaign against it.
The Central Land Council, one of four land councils in the Northern Territory, asserted that the referendum outcome suggested that Australia was a nation unfamiliar with itself. They expressed that they had encountered similar situations in the past. They conveyed their sadness but emphasized the importance of resilience. They noted that within their communities, particularly among the youth, there was a sense of disbelief and shock.
They also stressed the need for collaboration and mutual support. They affirmed their commitment to advocating for equality, land rights, access to water, housing, infrastructure, stable employment, education, and closing the gap – all for the betterment of future generations. The CLC also highlighted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote Australia predominantly voted in favour.
While the result was disheartening, the council acknowledged the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, for taking the initiative to put the voice proposal to a vote. Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (Antar) expressed being “deeply saddened” by the outcome but affirmed their unwavering commitment to voice, treaty, and truth, which are the primary goals of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart.
It was stated that, once again, an opportunity to transcend being a former British colony had been lost, despite a proposal that had been described as gracious, humble, and accommodating to mainstream values. It was emphasized that they did not believe that this signified the end of the movement for change. It was noted that the voice was just one method for advancing the rights and justice of First Nations people. The group observed that many First Nations individuals felt displaced and disconnected in their own land.
Antar stated that according to numerous accounts, the events of October 14 were perceived by many as an unprecedented act of racism by white Australia. They also noted that there were stories of resilience and resistance from leaders who were unwilling to back down. The group emphasized that coded messages and misinformation had played a crucial role in the outcome of October 14.
According to Nine newspapers, there was disagreement among some proponents of the yes campaign regarding the wording of an official joint statement. A draft version reportedly pointed fingers at the federal Coalition, stating that the referendum was “doomed from the moment the National party and then the Liberal party declared their opposition, and bipartisan support was lost.”
It was alleged that the statement conveyed the belief that a disgraceful act had been committed by a majority of Australians, whether knowingly or not, and that there was no positivity to be derived from it. It was also noted that Anthony Albanese has refrained from disclosing the government’s forthcoming actions but has expressed a commitment to actively engage with Indigenous groups.
What is the Referendum about
The referendum seeks to address two key issues: the recognition of indigenous Australians within the country’s Constitution and the establishment of an advisory body known as the “Voice to Parliament” to counsel legislators on matters affecting their lives. Notably, Australia’s 122-year-old Constitution currently contains no reference to Aboriginal people.
Aboriginal individuals constitute approximately 3.2% of Australia’s population and typically lag behind national averages across various socio-economic indicators. According to a government booklet designed to assist individuals in deciding whether to support or reject the vote, indigenous Australians experience:
– A life expectancy that is 8 years shorter than that of non-Indigenous Australians.
– Higher rates of disease and infant mortality.
– A suicide rate that is twice as high as that of non-Indigenous Australians.
Linda Burney, Australia’s Minister for Indigenous Australians, has emphasized that the proposed body would guarantee a voice for the original inhabitants of the continent. As reported by The Guardian, she stated, “It’s a way to break from the longstanding legacy of unsuccessful programs and failed policies and to genuinely listen to the perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”