Sydney, Australia, Oct 14 (EFE).- Australians on Saturday roundly rejected an historic proposal to include an advisory body in the country’s constitution that would have formally recognized Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as Australia’s First Peoples.
Preliminary results provided by the Australian Electoral Commission showed the No vote winning with 58.4%.
Indigenous people represent 3.8% of the more than 26 million inhabitants of Australia, the only industrialized nation with a colonial past that does not recognize them in its constitution.
The government had hoped to create a body composed of members elected by indigenous communities, called The Voice, to provide independent advice to the Executive and Parliament on issues related to indigenous peoples, thereby giving them better representation in decision making.
Addressing the nation after the vote, Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese said that despite failing to secure the desired outcome, he “absolutely respects” the results of the referendum.
“This moment of disagreement does not define or divide us,” Albanese said.
“We are not Yes or No voters, we are all Australians, and it is as Australians together that we must take our country beyond this debate.”
A leading campaigner for the No camp, Warren Mundine, who is an indigenous man, said the plebiscite should never have been called in the first place, calling it a waste of time. “(Voters) were promised something that didn’t exist,” he said, “It was built on a lie that Aboriginal people did not have a voice.”
“You wonder why we spent hundreds of millions of dollars when we should have actually been spending that money on those communities that are struggling,” Mundine said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
The proposal to recognize indigenous people was one of prime minister Anthony Albanese’s campaign promises, and was part of the Uluru Declaration from the Heart, which was created in 2017 after an indigenous convention that proposed constitutional changes.
Speaking alongside Albanese, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, said: “I know this outcome will be hard for some, but achieving progress is never easy, and progress doesn’t always move in a straight line.”
“Be proud of who you are. Be proud of your identity. Be proud of the 65,000 years of history and culture that you are a part of, and your rightful place in this country. We will carry on, and we will move forward, and we will thrive,” she said, overcome with emotion.
“This is not the end of reconciliation,” she said. EFE