In October, 60 percent of Australia voters said “no” to changing the country’s constitution to recognize and incorporate an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Parliament. The referendum’s failure, and the acrimonious campaign that preceded it, was “an extremely disappointing reflection on Australia,” said Hannah McGlade, an Australian academic, human rights advocate, and lawyer. McGlade, who is an associate professor at Curtin University’s law school, is a Kurin Minang Noongar woman of the Bibulman nation.
In an interview with The Diplomat’s Catherine Putz, McGlade explained that in the wake of the vote the mood among Indigenous communities in Australia is “somber.” Given the opportunity to move the country toward greater equality with what was, ultimately, a modest proposal, Australians failed.
“Australia remains a racist country,” McGlade said.
That said, she noted that nearly 40 percent of Australians “made the right and fair decision.” There is much work to be done on a variety of issues from racism and discrimination, to suicide and the incarceration of Indigenous children. “We won’t ever stop fighting for our rights as Aboriginal people,” McGlade said. “We have a history that dates back 65,000 years to this land and won’t be defeated by settler colonialism today.”
On Saturday, October 14, 2023, Australians were asked a single question: Whether to change the constitution to recognize the First Peoples of Australia by establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. The referendum failed. What do you make of the result of the vote?
The “no” vote was an extremely disappointing reflection on Australia, indicating the ongoing issue of racism toward Aboriginal people. The “no” campaign was heavily bankrolled including by organizations linked to fossil fuel extraction, who oppose Indigenous peoples’ rights for obvious reasons.
This was a vote about Aboriginal rights and Aboriginal peoples’ proper place in the nation, and sadly the majority subscribed to the racist arguments that were heavily promoted, including by certain Indigenous peoples working with conservatives. This vote was watched closely by Indigenous peoples globally and is a shameful reflection on Australia.