The result of the referendum was decisive, and at the same time, divisive. It bruised Indigenous Australians who for decades had hoped that a conciliatory approach would help right the wrongs of the country’s colonial history. So, the nation’s leader made a plea.
“This moment of disagreement does not define us. And it will not divide us,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, visibly emotional, said this month, after voters in every state and territory except one rejected the constitutional referendum. “This is not the end for reconciliation.”
But that was a difficult proposition to accept for Indigenous leaders who saw the result as a vote for a tortured status quo in a country that is already far behind other colonized nations in reconciling with its first inhabitants.
The rejection of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament — a proposed advisory body — was widely anticipated. Nonetheless, it was a severe blow for Indigenous people, who largely voted for it. With many perceiving it as the denial of their past and their place in the nation, the defeat of the Voice not only threatens to derail any further reconciliation but could also unleash a much more confrontational approach to Indigenous rights and race relations in Australia.
“Reconciliation only works if you have two parties who are willing to make up after a fight and move on,” said Larissa Baldwin Roberts, an Aboriginal woman and the chief executive of GetUp, a progressive activist group that campaigned for the Voice. “But if one party doesn’t acknowledge that there is even a fight here that’s happened, how can you reconcile?”