Australia’s Indigenous Voice Put to Test in National Vote

Australia has rejected a proposal to write Indigenous Australians into the country’s constitution, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has projected, ending a bid for an Aboriginal advisory body to the nation’s Parliament.

(Bloomberg) — Australia has rejected a proposal to write Indigenous Australians into the country’s constitution, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has projected, ending a bid for an Aboriginal advisory body to the nation’s Parliament.

The swing states of New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania have rejected the Voice to Parliament referendum, according to ABC projections, making the path for the “yes” campaign to win on Saturday impossible.

With more than 17% of the vote counted, the “no” vote is in front in every state in Australia, with only the Australian Capital Territory predicted to support a “yes” decision. 

Polling has yet to close in the state of Western Australia, but the referendum needed the support of both the majority of total votes and a majority of Australia’s states — meaning four out of six — to pass. With three projected to reject the referendum, it has failed to pass.

Some six million Australians cast their ballots early, with Friday marking the single biggest day of pre-polling in the nation’s history, according to the Electoral Commission.

Indigenous Australians have inhabited the country for more than 50,000 years. Despite living in one of the richest nations in the world, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders that make up 3.8% of Australia’s 26 million population are more likely to earn less, go to prison and die early.

If the referendum had succeeded, Indigenous Australians would have been written into the constitution and gained an advisory body to parliament, known as the Voice. It would have been the largest policy change in half a century for the country’s original inhabitants aims to give Indigenous people more say on policies affecting them.

Advocates are concerned a “no” vote will set back Australia’s attempts to reconcile with its First Nations people. It will also deal a blow to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s center-left government that pushed for the Voice.

Only eight of 44 Australian referendums have succeeded since federation in 1901 and the last one that passed was almost 50 years ago.

All times Sydney

Queensland Closes Voting with ‘No’ Leading (7:00 p.m.)

The state of Queensland has finished voting as of 7 p.m. Sydney time, with campaigners widely expecting the northeastern state to return a resounding “no” vote.

The ABC has projected the Australian Capital Territory, home to the capital city of Canberra, has voted “yes.” However as a territory, it only counts toward the overall vote — it is not one of the six states both sides need for a victory.

Results Begin as South Australia Polls Close (6:30 p.m.)

Voting has now closed in the state of South Australia, seen as a potential swing state with both sides looking to win four out of six states at Saturday’s referendum. The next state to finish voting will be Queensland at 7 p.m. Sydney time.

Results have begun to come in from a small number of seats in New South Wales and Victoria, with the “no” vote so far winning almost two-thirds of the count. Western Australia will finishing voting at 9 p.m. Analysts expect a result will likely be projected by then. 

Indigenous Australians (4:50 p.m.)

The original proposal for the Voice came from a meeting of Indigenous Australian elders in 2017 — but the referendum hasn’t been welcomed uniformly among their people.

Speaking ahead of the vote, some Indigenous Australians said they were against the Voice because they believed it wouldn’t have enough power to fix the generational disadvantage inflicted on their people. “You cannot fix a gunshot wound with a Band-Aid,” Wiradjuri Gomeroi woman Malika Munro said in Canberra.

But others supported the change. Far North Queensland mayor Wayne Butcher, an Uutaalnganu man, said Australia needed to take a new approach to Indigenous disadvantage. “Something’s broken here,” he said.

Possible Timing of Results (3:30 p.m.)

Election analyst Antony Green says we might know the results of the referendum as early as 7 p.m., if the outcome mirrors the polling.

Green works for Australian Broadcasting Corp. and for more than a decade has been among the most prominent voices in calling the nation’s elections. Writing on his private blog, Green said most states could have a clear result “in the first hour after the state’s count begins.”

“It is highly likely the referendum will be decided before counting starts in Western Australia,” he said. “If the results in southern states are very clear, we may even have a result before the first results report from Queensland.”

Opposition Leader Calls for ‘No’ (1:10 p.m.)

Peter Dutton, the leader of the center-right Liberal Party, again urged Australians to reject the voice proposal, saying the change to the constitution was “significant” and voters hadn’t been given enough information.

Albanese’s “never answered the queries that millions of Australians have,” Dutton told Channel Seven on Saturday, in his last pitch to voters before results this evening.

Voters Split in PM’s Seat (11:50 a.m.)

The suburb of Balmain sits in Sydney’s left-wing heartland, making up part of Prime Minister Albanese’s electorate of Grayndler. “Yes” campaign posters and volunteers crowded the voting booth in Balmain Public School, with not a single “no” placard to be seen.

Local voter Owen, 43, said he would be voting “yes” on Saturday, adding it hadn’t been a difficult choice. “It was dead easy, absolutely easy,” he said.

But Fiona, 48, said she had thought long and hard about the proposal and would be voting “no.”

“I think it’s a divisive decision for the country and I think it could be quite dangerous given we don’t know all the details on it,” she said.

PM Makes Last Pitch (10:20 a.m.)

Albanese was cheered by voters in the Sydney suburb of Balmain as he made his last pitch to the nation to support the Voice to Parliament proposal.

After posing for selfies with children and dogs, Albanese told reporters the world would see Australia in a “more positive way” if the country voted “yes” on Saturday.

“This is an opportunity for Australia to unite, to be strengthened by reaching out to our most vulnerable citizens,” Albanese said.

The prime minister will spend election night in the capital of Canberra, rather than attending the “yes” campaign event in Sydney.

Forrest Votes Yes (9:30 a.m.)

Australia’s richest person Andrew Forrest — who has so far declined to choose a side in the campaign — voted yes, he told the Australian newspaper.

“I haven’t tried to join any great Yes campaign or high-profile virtue signaling for funding,” he said. “I said I will only get involved politically where there is a national security issue or a proper threat to our standard of living. I didn’t see the referendum as that.”

Latest Newspoll (9:30 p.m.)

A Newspoll survey released Friday night found the “yes” vote rising three percentage points to 37%, while those against fell one point to 57%.

While the poll showed some uptick in support toward the Voice, all major surveys still show the “no” vote leading with a significant margin ahead of balloting.

Final Push Ahead of Vote (5:30 p.m.)

Neither sides eased up ahead of polling day, with both saying a potentially low voter turnout could benefit the “yes” camp.

Speaking on Friday afternoon, Albanese said he’d been in at least five different states and territories over the past 48 hours. 

“If we’re not going to recognize (Indigenous Australians) in our nation’s birth certificate, basically, now, when are we going to get around to doing it?” Albanese told Nova Radio.

(Updates with ABC projecting referendum defeat)

More stories like this are available on

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.