Indigenous Australians vow silence after rejected voice to parliament

Australian Indigenous leaders called on Sunday for a week of silence and reflection after a referendum to recognize First Peoples in the constitution was decisively rejected.

More than 60% of Australians voted "No" in the landmark referendum on Saturday that asked whether to alter the constitution to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people with an Indigenous advisory body, the "Voice to Parliament", that would have advised parliament on matters concerning the community.

Australia's first referendum in almost a quarter of a century needed a national majority and majorities in at least four states to pass. All six states rejected the proposal.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has conceded defeat in the referendum on Saturday, and vowed continued efforts to address disadvantages faced by First Australians.

"This is a bitter irony," the Indigenous leaders said in a statement. "That people who have only been on this continent for 235 years would refuse to recognize those whose home this land has been for 60,000 and more years is beyond reason."

They said they would lower the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flag to half-mast for the week and urged others to do the same.

Unlike other countries with similar histories, such as Canada and New Zealand, Australia has not formally recognized or reached a treaty with its First Peoples.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people make up about 3.8 percent of Australia's population and have inhabited the country for around 60,000 years.

"It's very clear that reconciliation is dead," Marcia Langton, an architect of the Voice, said on broadcaster NITV. "I think it will be at least two generations before Australians are capable of putting their colonial hatreds behind them and acknowledging that we exist." 

(With input from agencies)

(Cover: A Voice to Parliament referendum information board displayed in Melbourne, Australia, October 2, 2023. /CFP)

Search Trends