Australia will vote against proposals to enshrine an indigenous advocacy committee in its constitution in a historic referendum, local media are projecting
The Indigenous Voice, as it was called, would have been an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander group to advise the government on issues affecting their community.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who championed the plans, admitted on Saturday the result is “not what we hoped for” and that the country must “seek a new way forward”.
Opinion polls in recent months had indicated an overwhelming number of Australians opposed the proposal, despite early support.
And with 45% of the vote counted so far, the ‘No’ campaign appears to be ahead on 57% of the vote.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) said the states of New South Wales and Tasmania will reject constitutional change, based on early vote counting.
Constitutional change requires a majority of votes both nationwide and in at least four of the six states, meaning the Voice would need majorities in each of the four remaining states plus a national majority.
Mr Albanese hit back at critics who argued the plans had already caused division in the country.
“The No campaign has spoken about division while stoking it,” he said, adding the real division is in the difference in living standards between indigenous people and the wider community.
Indigenous leader and prominent ‘Yes’ campaigner Thomas Mayo said he is “devastated” by the results.
“We need a voice, we need that structural change,” he told ABC News.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton dismissed the Voice as “another layer of democracy”, which would not provide practical outcomes.
Referendums are difficult to pass in Australia, with only eight of 44 succeeding since the nation’s founding in 1901.
A polarising ‘No’ campaign, led by Australia’s opposition Liberal Party, was also supported by a small number of Indigenous leaders, who argued the proposal either didn’t go far enough or will fail to change the grim reality for remote Aboriginal communities.
Accounting for only 3.8% of the population, Indigenous Australians die up to eight years younger than non-indigenous citizens and are 12 times more likely to be in prison, while Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to be murdered than non-indigenous women.
The ‘Yes’ campaign said it would have given the community agency to advise the government on areas like Indigenous health, education and social services.
Almost 18 million people were enrolled to vote in the referendum, which is the country’s first since 1999.
About 6 million people cast ballots in early voting over the past three weeks, with roughly 2 million postal votes to be counted for up to nearly two weeks after the polls close on Saturday.
Unless the vote is close, the result could be known later on Saturday.
No constitutional amendment has been made since 1977.
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