Australia has rejected a historic referendum to include Native Americans in its constitution.
The Voice proposal also aimed to create a First Nations group to counsel the government on matters affecting their communities. Australia’s Historic Referendum Ends with Resounding ‘No’ Vote.
Voters who supported Yes said the referendum was a historic opportunity for change, while those who supported No called it divisive.
The outcome brings an end to a contentious, months-long argument that some worry would leave lasting wounds.
According to mental health professionals, reports of racist abuse directed against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have risen sharply throughout the campaign.
The ubiquity of misinformation and disinformation has generated speculation about whether Australia is entering a “post-truth” political period.
Nearly 18 million people registered to vote, with over six million voting early and many voting in a referendum for the first time.
The No vote was proclaimed less than an hour and a half after votes closed on Australia’s east coast, as counting at polling stations around the country continued. The ultimate results in every state and in the popular vote were negative.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who called the referendum earlier this year, addressed the nation, saying he accepted the outcome and “the democratic process that delivered it.”
“This moment of disagreement does not define or divide us; we are not Yes or No voters; we are all Australians.” “Too often in the life of our nation, the disadvantage confronting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been relegated to the margins, this referendum and my government has put it right at the centre,” says Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
However, the devastation was obvious to several in the Yes camp.
“Our Indigenous leadership put themselves out there for this… we have seen a disgusting No campaign that has been dishonest, that has lied to the Australian people,” Thomas Mayo, a member of the Yes campaign, told the ABC
“I’m not blaming the Australian people at all, but I do blame those who lied to them,” the Kaurareg Aboriginal and Kalkalgal, Erubamle Torres Strait Islander man continued.
Despite various questionable assertions about the Voice appearing in its official brochures, the No campaign has denied charges of intentionally disseminating incorrect information about the proposal.
And it was a day of celebration for their camp.
“This is a referendum that we should never have had because it was built on the lie that Aboriginal people do not have a voice,” Warren Mundine, a key No advocate and Bundjalung man, said.
“I’ve heard all over Australia that [people] want practical outcomes for Indigenous people; they’re tired of governments mucking things up; they want it fixed.” They also want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be recognised in the constitution.”
The referendum was Australia’s 45th effort to modify its fundamental document, but only eight ideas were approved. It was also the second time the question of Indigenous recognition has been put to a nationwide vote, the first being in 1999.
The Yes campaign’s central argument was that the Voice, which sought to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander agency to advise governments on matters affecting their communities, could address “the entrenched inequality” that their people still experience.
Indigenous Australians, for example, have nearly double the suicide rate of non-Indigenous Australians. Moreover, while constituting fewer than 4% of the Australian population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for 32% of all convicts.
The No campaign, on the other hand, saw things differently.
Its supporters warned that if the Voice was effective, it would create “different classes of citizenship” and special rights.
“It will have an Orwellian effect where all Australians are equal, but some Australians are more equal than others.
“Instead of being ‘one’, we will be divided – in spirit, and in law,” stated Opposition Leader Peter Dutton at the start of the campaign.
Many of the country’s top constitutional brains have argued that the Voice would not have conferred special rights on anyone.
However, the “divisive Voice” tagline, which appeared on No banners and posters, eventually resonated with voters.
“It’s clear that the referendum has not been successful, and I think that’s good for our country,” Mr Dutton said during a press conference.
“This is the referendum Australia did not need to have… what we’ve seen tonight is Australians in their millions reject the Prime Minister’s divisive referendum,” he said in a statement.
A “progressive” The No campaign, led by Aboriginal Senator Lidia Thorpe, and the Indigenous-led Blak Sovereign movement both opposed the Voice for various reasons.
They advocated for the priority of a legally binding treaty between First Nations peoples and the Australian government.
“This is not our constitution; it was developed in 1901 by a bunch of old white fellas, and now we’re asking people to put us in there – no thanks,” Ms Thorpe said in response to the outcome on Saturday.
As images of tears and quiet inundated the media from Yes gatherings, all sides of the debate appealed for a moment of national unity and introspection while the dust settled.
However, backers fear that the vote will be perceived as another rejection by Australia’s earliest residents, who have shown strong support for the Voice in early polls.
“There are so many people who aspired for our country to be seen differently tonight, and that is going to be deeply felt,” Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, assistant minister for Indigenous Australians, said.
“We have had many disappointments over decades and centuries really, we are resilient people, and we will take stock,” the Yanyuwa woman added.
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