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Australia votes against creating an Indigenous panel to advise Parliament

Indigenous women sit on a bench at a polling place in Sydney as Australians cast their final votes in the referendum to create an Indigenous advocacy committee to Parliament.
Rick Rycroft
/
AP
Indigenous women sit on a bench at a polling place in Sydney as Australians cast their final votes in the referendum to create an Indigenous advocacy committee to Parliament.

CANBERRA, Australia — Advocates for constitutional change in Australia said they were devastated on Saturday by the defeat of a referendum that would have created an advocacy committee to offer advice to Parliament on policies that affect Indigenous people — the nation's most disadvantaged ethnic minority.

Early counting showed that 57% of voters opposed the Indigenous Voice. Australian Broadcasting Corp. projections found New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia had rejected the amendment.

The Voice needed majorities in each of at least four of the six states as well as a national majority for the referendum to pass.

Voice advocate Tanya Hosch, who spent a decade on developing the model, told ABC: "On a personal level, I feel devastated."

"There's going to be a lot of pain and hurt and dismay and we're going to need to take a moment to absorb that message and what it says," Hosch said.

Another advocate, Tom Mayo, said he was also "devastated" and blamed unfair attacks on the plan.

"We have seen a disgusting 'no' campaign. A campaign that has been dishonest, that has lied to the Australian people," Mayo said.

Opinion polls in recent months indicated a strong majority of Australians opposed the proposal. Earlier in the year, a majority had supported it, before the "no" campaign gathered intensity.

Voice advocates had hoped that listening to Indigenous views would lead to more effective delivery of government services and better outcomes for Indigenous lives.

Accounting for only 3.8% of the population, Indigenous Australians die on average eight years younger than the wider population, have a suicide rate twice that of the national average and suffer from diseases in the remote Outback that have been eradicated from other wealthy countries.

The Voice would have been the first referendum passed since 1977 and the first ever to pass without the bipartisan support of the major political parties.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press