Australians have resoundingly rejected a proposed reform to the country’s constitution that would recognise Indigenous people, a referendum’s results have shown.
With most of the vote counted on Saturday, it became clear that the “Yes” votes have failed to reach the required threshold with the goal of creating an Indigenous advisory body called the “Indigenous Voice to Parliament”.
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Those opposed to the reforms led those in favour 60 percent to 40 percent, with all but one of the six states that needed to also be in favour actually voting to reject the proposal.
The highest number of yes votes were registered in Victoria with 46 percent, with Queensland seeing the lowest at 32 percent.
However, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese defended his decision to push for a referendum, and said “We must seek a new way forward with the same optimism.”
“Tonight is not the end of the road and is certainly not the end of our efforts to bring people together,” he said.
The Indigenous citizens in Australia make up about 3.8 percent of the country’s population of 26 million, and have inhabited the land for some 65,000 years. But they are not mentioned in the constitution, and remain disadvantaged in a range of areas including health and housing.
Supporters of the proposal to make changes to the country’s 122-year constitution believe adding an Indigenous voice to the document would help reconcile the country, but opponents have called it divisive and ineffective.
From the 44 referendums that have been held in Australia since its founding in 1901, only eight have successfully passed. This is the first referendum in Australia since voters rejected a proposal to become a republic almost a quarter of a century ago.
The vote on Saturday may also have implications for misinformation in Australia, as a large campaign had spread through social media prior to the vote that sparked fears that the Indigenous Voice to Parliament – a purely advisory body – would become a third chamber of parliament and bring Aboriginal people more federal funding.
Albanese also touched on this and criticised sections of the media that he said had steered the referendum debate away from the core issues.
“We have had, including in outlets represented in this room, discussions about a range of things that were nothing to do with what was on the ballot paper tonight,” the prime minister told reporters on Saturday.