It took years, even decades, to create a voice in Parliament.
In the end, it only took a few hours for it to be broken.
Not even an hour had passed after the first polls closed before the initial blow fell on the Yes campaign’s hopes: Tasmania voted no. Six minutes later, at just 19:03, NSW provided a monstrous crack.
Just over 20 minutes later, at 7.25pm on Saturday 14 October 2023, ABC election analyst Antony Green announced The Voice’s time of death – South Australia had voted no , the death knell of the Yes campaign.
The rest of the country’s states and the Northern Territory would soon follow. The national capital was the only jurisdiction to vote in favor of recognizing Australia’s first peoples in the constitution with one Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vote in Parliament.
And with that, it was over.
There was no plan B, no backup.
So what comes next?
In the days that followed, silence would reign. Silence of indigenous leaders who entered a period of mourning.
The irony is that after weeks, even years, when white voices were among the loudest and most toxic, they will eventually be the loudest again. Especially since Parliament returns for a week of sitting only 48 hours later.
There is a lot of anger among First Nations leaders who have carried the weight on their shoulders for years, who faced racist attacks during the campaign, only to see their years of work thrown away overnight.
Thomas Mayo, who said he was devastated, told the ABC the story would reflect badly on opposition leader Peter Dutton and No activists, whom he accused of lying to the Australian people.
Academic Marcia Langton went further and called reconciliation “dead”, warning it would be at least two decades before Australians would be “able to leave their colonial hatred behind and recognize that we exist” and accused No activists of having “poisoned” Australians against the Voice.
Other First Nations Australians say they are looking to the future in the hope of finding other ways to narrow the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
On this front, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Australia’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney said they would present renewed commitments in the coming months. Both insist that reconciliation is not dead.
The political consequences
This referendum will likely feature hundreds, if not thousands, of untold stories about the detrimental impact it has had on First Nations people, as we analyze what these results say about a nation that is home to 65,000 years of continuous culture.
There is no denying that this will also have political implications.
It didn’t take long for politics to return to its predictable partisan ways (it probably never stopped).
Last night, it was impossible to hide the smiles of Peter Dutton and those of Aboriginal Australian spokesperson, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price. In the world of Realpolitik, they come out on top.
But they too have electoral concerns linked to the evening’s results. Strong Yes votes in the Liberal heartland have transformed Teal’s independent seats, further heightening the electoral challenge Dutton and the Coalition face if they are to find a path to government, which one MP National became independent (a defection which was the result of his former party’s stance). opposing The Voice) announced in the final days of the referendum campaign.
In the meantime, the focus will be on Dutton and the sincerity of his promise to deliver “practical” results to close the gap. His initial comments last night destroyed what little hope there might have been for bipartisanship.
He wants a royal commission into allegations of child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities and an audit of spending programs (many of which probably started under the Coalition, and yet it doesn’t seem to be mentioned).
Albanese will look to rally his troops when Parliament returns next week. The heart of the Labor Party has clearly said no to The Voice.
Many of these same voters said no to same-sex marriage, but unlike teal voters, they did not unseat the party that has long represented them.
Questions will be asked as to where it went so wrong. Despite peaking in the polls earlier this year, voters overwhelmingly rejected the Voice – something for which Albanese will have to answer. Campaign tactics and the failure to counter the No campaign will also require reflection.
Many in federal politics are wondering what might happen next for Albanese’s close friend and political ally, Linda Burney, the first woman to hold the Indigenous Australians portfolio. Few expect her to be voted out of office, but if she is to step down, Northern Territory senator Malarndirri McCarthy appears to be the likely heir to replace her.
Prominent Yes campaigner Noel Pearson, reflecting on the fact that Aboriginal people make up only 3 per cent of the population, predicted that this 97 per cent would determine whether Australia’s first peoples were recognised.
This recognition, at least for now, is a no.
He also warned that October 14 would bring a looking glass, offering Australians the chance to “see ourselves like never before”.
This mirror reflects Australia today. Now it’s up to the public to take a closer look and see what this thinking tells us.