A leading campaigner for an Indigenous voice in Parliament has described Australia as a “nation frozen in time” in an attempt to explain what went wrong during the historic referendum campaign.
Thomas Mayo was one of the most controversial figures throughout the campaign, and his earlier comments linking the Voice to the treaty and the truth were picked up by early critics as examples of the potential risks associated with the proposal .
Now, almost a month after the referendum night – in which 60 per cent of Australia and all six states voted against the proposal – Mr Mayo attempted to explain the result on the world stage.
Speaking to BBC UK’s ‘The Inquiry’ podcast, Mr Mayo squarely blamed the opposition for his decision to oppose The Voice.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was committed to Voice from the moment he rose to the top job, and his supporters say the opposition has politicized the low-level political rating proposal.
Thomas Mayo was one of the most controversial figures throughout the campaign, and his earlier comments linking the Voice to the treaty and the truth were picked up by critics early on as examples of the potential risks associated with the proposal.
“We were fighting on many fronts, but the ultimate destruction of this opportunity happened when the opposition decided to oppose it,” he told host David Baker.
“No referendum has ever been won in this country without the support of both parties, but mainly because they fought against it so fiercely and vehemently.”
Mr Mayo acknowledged that Yes campaigns failed to deliver clear and concise messages, confusing voters and in some cases leading them to seek information from the No side. .
Today, following the decisive no on October 14, Mr Mayo describes Australia as “a nation frozen in time”.
“(It) is not a good place for indigenous people,” he said.
“This is not a good thing for our country. We must examine why this referendum, so important to national interests, failed.
There were tears and strong emotions on referendum night as Yes supporters realized – very quickly – that there was no path to victory.
Pictured: A Yes supporter reacts at the official Yes campaign event on referendum night
Mr Mayo told the podcast that the mental health of First Nations people deteriorated throughout the campaign and the vitriol deterred some supporters from volunteering.
“The intensity, the quantity, it was unprecedented, I think, in this country,” he said.
“I’m not naive.
“I was on the receiving end. It really becomes something very harmful. This affected the mental health throughout the campaign of indigenous people.
Mr Mayo described the “painful, painful emptiness in (his) chest” and “slap in the face” when he realized Australia had voted no.
He also criticized the opposition’s attempts to “talk about race” when he said they were “wrong” and “misleading people that it was risky”.
“It wasn’t about race,” he said. “Indigenous people are not a different race. We are a distinct people with a heritage and culture linked to this place.
“We deserve to be recognized. It was a simple message…but we just couldn’t get it across.
But he said there was one positive to take from the referendum result, which was that 40 per cent of Australians, or around five million people, voted in favor of the proposal.
Thomas Mayo spoke at the event, blasting the No campaign which opposed Voice.
Mr. Mayo says he is sorry for the result and recognizes that there will be no constitutional recognition in his lifetime
Mr Albanese and Ms Burney conceded defeat immediately after polls closed in Washington state – before counting had even actually begun. At this point, there was already no path to victory.
Although it wasn’t enough to get the voice out, it did “bring this to people’s kitchen tables.” Mr Mayo acknowledged that for many Australians, “the deep-rooted disadvantage of indigenous people is not something they usually think about”.
Looking ahead, Mr Mayo pledged to continue advocating for the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the heart – but not for its constitutional recognition.
“It won’t happen in my lifetime,” he conceded. “But I believe others will, because the poll results show that young people voted yes.”
“Our children are being taught differently about the truth of our colonial past and why we have these disparities in the present.”
Despite Mr Mayo’s heartfelt commitment to the Uluru Statement, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Labor government are yet to chart their own path forward in the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio.
Initially, the plan was to set up a Makarrata commission to work alongside Voice to Parliament, with the aim of achieving a treaty and truth process.
But critics say pushing ahead with the plan would go directly against the outcome of the referendum process – although the referendum question does not explicitly mention Makarrata.
Australia’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney said she was waiting to consult with First Nations communities – who were grieving and had taken a vow of silence following the referendum defeat – before making any decisions concrete.
Yes campaigners had long warned that a no vote would impact Australia’s international reputation.
The episode of the BBC podcast was titled: “What went wrong with Indigenous Australia’s call for a voice?” ” and featured Mr. Mayo, as well as three academics who each explained why the Voice failed.