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The Voice is silenced as Australia’s Referendum Fails

Staff Writer Sarah Stancombe examines the defeat of Australia’s referendum on “The Voice” , explaining the result and its potential consequences. The Voice is a movement spear-headed by Australia’s First Nations People, in an attempt to enshrine a recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders in the constitution and establish an advisory First Nation chamber to Parliament.

The Results

The ABC has called defeat in the Australian referendum for a Voice to Parliament.

At around 10am BST, (8pm AEST), as votes across the country were being counted, both the ABC and The Guardian were in agreement that the Voice was set to fail. With a majority ‘No’ vote nationally and in four states, the referendum cannot pass. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is the only territory to have voted majority ‘Yes’, while the state of Victoria holds the closest margin between the two sides. This means the referendum will fall short of the four states with a majority ‘Yes’ vote required for the referendum to pass.

On Saturday 14th of October, Australia went to the polls for their referendum on The Voice – a vote to enshrine Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders in the Australian constitution, creating “an independent and permanent advisory body” that would “give advice to the Australian Parliament and Government on matters that affect the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

Australians were asked to write “Yes” or “No” to determine their vote on the ballot sheet reading: A proposed law: To alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice’

Voting is mandatory in Australia, and many Australians living in the UK flocked to Australia House, during the two week voting window which closed at 6pm on Friday the 13 October.

The Party Politics Behind the Vote

Current Australian Labour Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stated that the Voice is “an unflinching source of advice and accountability“. Before the result of the election, his government refused to be drawn on what will happen if the proposal fails – especially regarding if they would push on with the indigenous advisory chamber without enshrining it in the constitution BBC news tells.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has supported the recognition of the First Nations people, but his Liberal Party opposed “a constitutionally enshrined consultative body.” Presently Australia grapples with the issue of its First Nations people not being mentioned anywhere in the constitution, and the Voice seeks to remedy this. However, some Liberal leaders have independently stated that they were voting ‘Yes’, with the slogan “Liberals for Yes” drawing on a belief that Liberal tradition is in line with a ‘Yes’ vote.

The Greens are supporting the ‘Yes’ vote, however, they also believe a Treaty should have come first. Tensions rose with their former Aboriginal leader Lidia Thorpe, who left the party over this debate. She stated, “Some First Nations people want a treaty to be the first step, to reflect that their sovereignty was never ceded.” In some sense, voting ‘Yes’ to the Voice is seen as a compromise that doing something is better than doing nothing, and is still a progressive step forward. Many believe that action and money should have instead been put towards a formal Treaty, or into practically addressing the issues Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people face. Construction of a Treaty is a huge issue in Australia as well, as it is one of the only countries still lacking this form of agreement with its First Nations People. Canada, for example, has “reached around 70 treaties with First Nations peoples since 1701, some leading to self-governance.

The Voice has been met with contention throughout the country. The sentiment “if you don’t know, vote no” has been met with deep criticism, with the alternative slogan “if you don’t know, find out” proposed to encourage people to place their vote with purpose and learn more about the issues First Nations people are facing.

What Happens Next?

It was hoped that the Voice could shed light on and be a step towards resolving the issues faced by First Nations people, such as: lower life expectancies, physical violence, and high imprisonment rates. Without the Voice, Australians will have to wait and see whether any other actions will be taken in place of the Voice, or whether these issues, alongside many others, can be practically addressed through other avenues.

This ‘No’ vote is likely the result of an unwillingness from the general public to research the Voice, mixed with misinformation spread widely online – The Guardian has worked to remedy some of the biggest statements they view as false claims here. Some public sentiments include believing the advisory body would have too much power, or on the other hand, would not do anything substantial. Lidia Thorpe herself reacted to the failed outcome, stating “From the beginning I said it was a waste of money and that it would divide our people. Here we are, 12 months later, wasted money, no result and no justice either way.”

The future of the Voice is now unclear, with the Prime Minister stating he will “respect” the outcome of the referendum, in this case meaning the government “won’t try to legislate a Voice to parliament”. Following the result, Albanese’s speech included a vow that this referendum does not ‘”define us or divide us” as a nation’.

More detailed information can be found about the votes as they are counted here.

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