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Australia: The referendum result opens a new chapter for Indigenous Peoples

16 October, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

“This is a bitter irony. That people who have only been on this continent for 235 years would refuse to recognise those whose home this land has been for 60,000 and more years is beyond reason”[1].

In these terms, indigenous organizations that supported the “Yes” campaign in the October 14, 2023 referendum expressed their sentiments. However, the referendum yielded a negative result for its proponents, as approximately 60% of the votes rejected the proposed constitutional amendments aimed at establishing a permanent “Indigenous voice” in the Australian Parliament.

The initiative, which enjoyed full support from the government and a significant portion of the opposition, did not gain approval in any of the states comprising the nation. One notable exception was the capital district, Sydney, where the initiative received a favorable vote exceeding 70% of valid votes, as reported by the Australian Electoral Commission[2].

On the same night of the referendum, after the results were known, the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, addressed the media in Parliament, said that he respected the result of the referendum and asked the nation to find a new way forward, saying that the path to indigenous reconciliation was not dead. “We advocate for this change not out of convenience but out of conviction, because that’s what people deserve from their government. And of course, when you do the hard things, when you aim high, sometimes you fall short. And tonight we recognize, understand and respect what we have,” he said.

Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, expressed that the failure of the referendum represents a day of sadness for many Australians but not the end of reconciliation. She mentioned that the government would provide more information in the coming months regarding future plans to bridge the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

In their statement, the indigenous organizations supporting the referendum declare:

“We are calling A Week of Silence from tonight (Saturday 14th October) to grieve this outcome and reflect on its meaning and significance. We will not be commenting further on the result at this time.

They urge us not to talk about recognition or reconciliation, but about “justice and the rights of our people in our own country, of our birth and inheritance.”

In the statement, the organizations urge to regain strength to determine a new direction for justice and their rights.

“The truth is that rejection was always ours to determine. The truth is that we offered this recognition and it has been refused. We now know where we stand in this our own country.”

[1] https://ulurustatement.org/a-statement-from-indigenous-australians-who-supported-the-voice-referendum/

[2] The results can be viewed on the website of the Australian Electoral Commission https://tallyroom.aec.gov.au/ReferendumNationalResults-29581.htm