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Australians say no to voice for the indigenous
By:China Daily Global
update:October 19,2023
Deep-rooted divisions in society revealed as referendum fails to pass
Oct. 19, 2023 -- When a referendum on giving indigenous Australians a greater voice in their country failed it hardly came as a surprise, reflecting what opinion polls have been pointing to for weeks.
With more than 70 percent of ballots counted by Sunday morning, more than 60 percent of Australians had voted "No" in the landmark referendum, the first in almost a quarter of a century, that asked whether to alter the constitution to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders by creating an Indigenous advisory body, the Voice to Parliament.
For the measure to be adopted it had needed at least four of the six states to vote in favor, along with a national majority. None of the states did so.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese acknowledged it was not the outcome he had hoped for but said the country would have to seek a way forward for reconciliation.
"Our nation's road to reconciliation has often been hard going," he said.
The referendum had a bumpy ride from the outset, with those opposed to the measure saying that its passage would create a third chamber of parliament. This led to concerns about increased federal aid to Aborigines and pit them and the rest of the country against one another.
The Voice was also likely to stall government decision-making, they said.
The Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton criticized Albanese for holding a referendum "that Australia did not need to have".
"The proposal and the process should have been designed to unite Australians, not to divide us," he said after the outcome became clear.
Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Center at East China Normal University, said that the referendum shed light on deep-rooted conflicts in Australian society.
Disadvantaged position
"After the British colonizers arrived in this land, they adopted policies to marginalize indigenous communities. As a result, Aborigines are now living in a disadvantaged position compared with whites."
Indigenous citizens now make up 3.8 percent of the country's 26 million population and have inhabited the land for about 60,000 years but they do not get a mention in the constitution.
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 number of deaths in police custody of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is more than six times that of others, a 2020 report by the Australian Institute of Criminology said.
The propagation in Australia of neo-Nazi ideology as well as racism in general, and government policies, "exacerbate the plight of minorities, including Indigenous people and other immigrant groups", Chen said.
On Oct 5 an online video of a neo-Nazi threatening Lidia Thorpe, an indigenous federal senator, was disseminated on social media, and a man reportedly delivered a Nazi salute and made racist comments as well as threatening her. She alleged that Albanese and police had failed to do enough to protect her.
Chinese living in Australia have been among the victims of racial discrimination, Chen said. They and other Asian immigrants have become the targets and victims of abusive attacks since the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020 as the then federal government followed Washington's strategy to politicize the origin of the virus, he said.
Chen also pointed out the opaqueness and tokenistic nature of the referendum proposal.
"It lacked concrete solutions to tackle the real needs of indigenous groups, and that's why some indigenous people even voted against it.
"Nevertheless, the referendum movement has prompted Australians to seriously mull over the Indigenous people's plight, forge consensus among different groups, mitigate gaps and find ways to improve the status of indigenous people.
"Ensuring that their voice is heard rather than silenced is important. Australians should rise to solve the divisions in their society and bravely reinstate and promote multiculturalism as the national policy."
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