The Australians clearly rejected On Saturday a reform of Aboriginal rights, submitted by referendum, to the outcome of an acrimonious campaign that deepened racial divisions in the country-continent.
After counting the votes of three-quarters of the country's polling stations, it appears that 55% of voters voted “no” to the text which proposed recognizing in the Constitution the Aborigines as the first inhabitants of the island-continent and to give them a specific “voice”.
The plan called for the creation of an advisory council – nicknamed “The Voice” – to Parliament and government to advise on laws and public policies that affect indigenous, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, which represent 984,000 people. , or 3.8% of the Australian population.
“Tonight I want to acknowledge that for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people this campaign has been a heavy burden to bear. And this result will be very difficult to bear,” said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Initially largely in the majority, the camp in favor of changing the 1901 Constitution has continued to lose ground in recent months, notably due to the campaign led by the conservative opposition, led by the former Minister of Defense Peter Dutton.
For the conservative camp, the reform constituted constitutional tinkering and would have created divisions within society, by creating a citizenship distinction.
“It’s a difficult result, a very difficult result,” said “Yes23” campaign manager Dean Parkin. “We did everything we could, and we will come back to it,” he assured.
The campaign led to an avalanche of racist comments on online media.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese makes a statement at a polling station in Sydney on October 14, 2023 © AFP – Saeed KHAN
False information has also circulated, some of which claims that property titles could be returned to cause or that reparations should be paid if the reform passes.
For the supporters of “The Voice”, this reform was to help heal the still raw wounds of a past of colonization and racial repression.
Today, more than 200 years after British colonization, indigenous Australians, whose ancestors have lived on the continent for at least 60,000 years, have the same rights as other citizens, but they still suffer from severe inequalities.
– “Day of shame” –
A “yes” supporter, Karen Wyatt, 59, had estimated before the vote that if “La Voix” was rejected, it would be “one day shame for Australia.
A surfer passes near a polling station at Bondi Beach in Sydney on October 14, 2023 © AFP – DAVID GRAY
Dee Duchesne, 60, who campaigned for “no” , explained that he wanted to “avoid an additional layer of bureaucracy being added to our Constitution”.
She said she was called racist while distributing leaflets near a polling station in Sydney. “I'm not,” she says.
Aboriginal leader Thomas Mayo has expressed his anger at those who campaigned for a “no” vote.
“They lied to Australians. This dishonesty should not be forgotten by the Australian people.”
“There should be repercussions for this type of behavior in our democracy, they should not be able to get out of it like that.”
A volunteer distributes flyers at the entrance to a polling station on October 14, 2023 in Melbourne © AFP – Martin KEEP
Centre-left Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who who was heavily involved in the campaign launched a final appeal to voters on Saturday, who did not hear it. “It’s about respect for indigenous Australians. It’s about how we see ourselves as a nation, but also how the world sees us,” he argued.
Voting was compulsory for Australia's 17.5 million voters.
To be adopted, the reform had to receive not only a majority of votes nationally, but also in at least four of the six states from the country. She obtained neither.
All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2023) Agence France-Presse