A decade of work for supporters of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament was struck down barely an hour after polls closed in the east of the country. By Rick Morton.

Nothing has won

Yes supporters react with sadness to the referendum result
A Yes supporter reacts at the Inner West for 'Yes2023' official referendum function at Wests Ashfield Leagues Club in Sydney.
Credit: Jenny Evans / Getty Images

Nothing changes. There will be no amendment to the constitution.

More than half a century after Australia recorded its highest ever “Yes” vote in any referendum – the 1967 vote to grant powers to the Commonwealth to make laws for First Nations people – the nation has delivered one of the lowest.

The final accounting will take more time but the outcome is clear. It was called by ABC election analyst Antony Green at 7.24pm AEDT. Australians have rejected the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Addressing the nation at 9pm AEDT, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had given his word to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that his government would seek to implement the Voice to Parliament, as requested from the Uluru dialogues. But now, with the defeat of the referendum, “we must seek a new way forward”.
“I will always be ambitious for our country. Ambitious for us to be the very best version of ourselves,” he said. “In that spirit, just as I offered many times to cooperate with people from across the political spectrum on the next steps in the event of a ‘Yes’ victory, I renew that offer of cooperation tonight.

“This moment of disagreement does not define us.”
Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney, a Wiradjuri woman, spoke shortly after, with a message for all First Nations people. She blinked away tears. Her voice cracked.
“I know the past few weeks have been tough,” she said. “But be proud of who you are, be proud of your identity. Be proud of the 65,000 years of history and culture that you are part of and your rightful place in this country will carry on.”
Burney said the government will have “more to say” on its “renewed commitment to closing the gap”.
Tanya Hosch, who has been advocating for constitutional recognition for more than a decade, said on Saturday evening she was personally “devastated” at the result. In late August the Yes23 campaigner left hospital after a leg amputation related to type 2 diabetes, to attend the launch of the campaign.
“We knew that the pre-requisite for success was bipartisanship and the moment that was denied,” she said.
“I think I will be grateful for the number of people who did come out in strong support for ‘Yes’... My concern is that on the back of tonight there will be a lot of nitpicking about campaign strategy… instead of the reckoning that we need to have.
Former Liberal Party strategist Tony Barry told the ABC that the result reflects a trend that has been seen “for some time” – that Australia is “becoming a nation of smaller and smaller tribes.”

Fractured and divided, that is, and long before this referendum.

Tasmania was all but lost within 45 minutes from the start of counting, as early votes in the federal electorates of Braddon and Lyons registered less than 30 per cent support.

The ACT was quickly confirmed as a “Yes” jurisdiction, but it was the only one, and as a territory would never count toward the second element of the required double majority. New South Wales was called for “No” just 62 minutes after polling closed in the eastern states. South Australia and Queensland were both called for the “No” camp before voting closed in Western Australia, and Victoria shortly after.

Leading “No” campaigner Nyunggai Warren Mundine took an uncertain and at times confused manner to his live cross on the ABC but was more comfortable when speaking with Sky News Australia.

“I knew that we could win every state and have a chance to get the majority vote,” he said.

“We didn’t abuse people, we didn’t attack people, we sat down with people and had a conversation with them…while the ‘Yes’ campaign was sitting around talking with people sitting in leather chairs and smoking cigars.”

Sky News referendum panelist and columnist with The Australian newspaper Chris Kenny, who has long supported the Voice proposal, said the campaign by the opposing camp was “deceptively and dishonestly” conducted.

“People don’t like to have to make this choice. Even people voting ‘No’ are very aware that they are knocking down the aspirations of many Indigenous people,” he said.

“But they don’t like being put in the position to have to make that choice and that’s why I say voters have been let down. What they deserved on this issue was some sort of bipartisan approach, some sort of bipartisan compromise.”

Blak Sovereign Movement representative and independent Senator Lidia Thorpe, who led the progressive “No” case, said she had maintained “from the beginning that this was a waste of money and it would divide our people, and here we are.”

“I too am sad for my people in this country right now,” she said.

“There is no justice either way. The Blak Sovereign Movement’s position has been the position since invasion – we don’t want to go into the constitution. This was developed in 1901 by a bunch of white fellas. Grassroots activists have resisted colonisation for over 200 years.”

Albanese, who did not attend the official Yes23 campaign event, had watched the results tallied from the Lodge in Canberra alongside Minister for Finance Katy Gallagher. Linda Burney was also in Canberra.

In his speech on the result hours later, the prime minister sought to redefine the terrain of the campaign, claiming that not even the “No” campaign believed that the status quo was acceptable.

“The real division is one of disadvantage,” he said. “The division that is the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in life expectancy, in educational opportunity, in rates of suicide and disease. It's now up to all of us to come together and find a different way to the same reconciled destination.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton also stayed away any official events for his campaign in Brisbane. 

Leading “Yes” campaigner Thomas Mayo, a First Nations man who has spent barely any time in his home since the start of the year as he sought to convince a nation, was emphatic.

“We have seen a disgusting campaign from the ‘No’ people and let’s let that come out,” he told ABC on Saturday night.

“I hope the Australian people look at who lied. I’m not blaming the Australian people at all. I’m sure that history will reflect poorly on Peter Dutton, Pauline Hanson and all of those who opposed this.”

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