SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 09: Yes23 spokesperson Dean Parkin speaks during a campaign event at the Redfern Community Centre on October 09, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. A referendum for Australians to decide on an indigenous voice to parliament will be held on October 14, 2023 and compels all Australians to vote by law. Early voting began on Oct. 2, with voting getting underway in all states. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Australians Rejected a Referendum on Aboriginal Rights. Now What?

On October 14, Australian voters rejected a referendum that would have increased rights and representation for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The aim of the referendum was to establish a representative body that would advise the government on issues concerning the Indigenous community. The members of this representative body would have been selected by the Indigenous community. The no vote won by 60%. 

Recommended Videos

So now what? As they process the pain of this staggering rejection, Indigenous Australians called for a week of silence. Though some have declared the path to reconciliation dead, others remain hopeful, among them Indigenous leader and former rugby player, Lloyd Walker. In his reaction to the vote, Walker stressed the need for hope and continued organizing to make things better for the next generation. Walker also noted that it was important in his opinion to keep in mind that 40% of voters did want Indigenous rights. One—but only one—of Australia’s territories voted a majority yes on the ballot question, the Capital Territory. Australia’s capital city, Canberra, is located in the Capital Territory. 

Indigenous people make up about 3.8% of Australia’s population. The term Aboriginal Australian is used to refer to people whose cultural heritage is of Indigenous mainland (Aboriginal) and island off the coast of Australia (Torres Strait Islanders). Australia has never signed a treaty with its Indigenous people. Like Indigenous people around the globe, Aboriginal people have faced persecution, genocide, the removal of their children, and the erasure of their language and culture. Though Aboriginal people have been in Australia for 50,000 years, they did not have full voting rights until 1967. 

In 2008, Kevin Rudd, then Australian Prime Minister, made a formal apology to the Aboriginal people for the harm done to them. At the time, the gesture was seen as a productive step towards reconciliation that other nations and leaders might look to. Now First People around the world are viewing Australia as reactionary and out of sync with advancing human rights after this vote. In New Zealand, Indigenous people have had representation in Parliament since 1867. 

In advance of the election, UN human rights experts extolled the importance of voting yes. Amnesty International proclaimed the loss of the referendum campaign as heartbreaking and pledged to continue to support the fight for full rights and representation for Indigenous people.

One Australian member of parliament has stated that a fair campaign for Indigenous rights would mean stemming the tide of American influence, in particular Trump-style politicking. Whatever comes next for Aboriginal rights organizing, it may be powered by Aboriginal youth who make up 51% of Australia’s Indigenous population. In the minds of some Aboriginal youth, though the failure of the referendum is disappointing, the attempt at a voice in government was not ambitious enough. Instead, they want more inclusive rights enshrined in a treaty.

(featured image: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article Female Benedictine College Graduate Speaks Out After Harrison Butker’s Horrific Speech
Harrison Butker at the Super Bowl LVII on Opening Night and Susi Leisegang in a TikTok video
Read Article Charlyne Yi Says They Were ‘Coerced To Quit’ Taika Waititi Series Following Alleged Assault
Actress Charlyne Yi attends the premiere of "Twin Peaks" at Ace Hotel on May 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Read Article Let the Olympics Be Horny!
Michael Phelps Kissing Gold Medal Olympics
Read Article Wanna Get Into Chappell Roan? Start With These 10 Songs
Chappell Roan poses in a beauty pageant outfit on the cover of her album The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess.
Read Article NFL Remains Silent Following Misogynistic Commencement Speech From the Chiefs’ Harrison Butker
Kansas City Chiefs' Harrison Butker on the field at State Farm Stadium
Related Content
Read Article Female Benedictine College Graduate Speaks Out After Harrison Butker’s Horrific Speech
Harrison Butker at the Super Bowl LVII on Opening Night and Susi Leisegang in a TikTok video
Read Article Charlyne Yi Says They Were ‘Coerced To Quit’ Taika Waititi Series Following Alleged Assault
Actress Charlyne Yi attends the premiere of "Twin Peaks" at Ace Hotel on May 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Read Article Let the Olympics Be Horny!
Michael Phelps Kissing Gold Medal Olympics
Read Article Wanna Get Into Chappell Roan? Start With These 10 Songs
Chappell Roan poses in a beauty pageant outfit on the cover of her album The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess.
Read Article NFL Remains Silent Following Misogynistic Commencement Speech From the Chiefs’ Harrison Butker
Kansas City Chiefs' Harrison Butker on the field at State Farm Stadium
Author