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Australians over the weekend shot down a constitutional amendment to provide the country’s Indigenous peoples with a “Voice,” an advisory body to the national parliament, serving their interests in the country, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Two-thirds of Australians had supported the idea when the incumbent Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pledged to hold a referendum to enshrine the Voice in the country’s constitution. But on Saturday, 59 percent said no after the initiative became increasingly divisive over the past few months, reported the Washington Post.
Opponents said the proposal would destroy Australia’s sovereignty, upend property rights, compel racialist categorizations of the citizenry, make some people more equal than others, and cause a slew of other calamities. Proponents of the Voice said those criticisms were falsehoods at best and misinformation at worst.
The BBC described the referendum as a reckoning. Australians have arguably never faced up fully to the racist, colonial history of their nation, where King Charles III is still technically head of state. The country’s constitution fails to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for example. These communities could not vote in elections until 1962. They were not counted as part of the country’s population until 1971. A 1999 effort to acknowledge Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the preamble of the constitution failed.
Attempts to reverse this history of hate have elicited more hate, though. An anti-Voice video on social media featured a hooded man uttering racist epithets while burning an Aboriginal flag and performing the Nazi salute, wrote Al Jazeera. The man specifically mentioned Indigenous independent federal senator Lidia Thorpe, who has been the victim of racist harassment since she entered politics three years ago.
Writing in the Guardian, the country’s outgoing race discrimination commissioner, Chin Tan, said the “No” campaign has revealed the depth of Australia’s racism problem. He called on leaders to stand up to the haters and support education and public awareness campaigns to curb the spread of racism.
Some critics of the referendum are among those affected most, reported Reuters. An ethnic Aborigine who lives in the Outback, Tarna Andrews, told the newswire that she wanted government help on economic development, healthcare, and Internet connectivity more than a new legislative organ designed to give her a supposed say in the capital of Canberra.
“We don’t see people coming from the government, coming and talking about what we need,” she said. “If I vote, is the government going to listen to me?”
Her skepticism is understandable. If the Voice had become a reality, Andrews’ issues likely wouldn’t be solved. Regardless, it’s a moot point now.