Australians have voted against a historic Indigenous referendum that aimed to enshrine an Indigenous advisory body in the constitution, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the nation’s First Peoples.

The referendum, which garnered nationwide attention and debate, is believed to have led to a significant divide within the country.

Australian media projected the referendum’s defeat, citing that three states voted against the proposal. The referendum’s proponents argued that it was a modest yet profound change that allowed Indigenous Australians to claim their rightful place in their own country. The opponents expressed concerns that it racially divided the nation. They also questioned its practical operation.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese encouraged indigenous people to maintain their hope for a more inclusive and equitable Australia.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton, a vocal opponent of the Indigenous advisory body, described the referendum as “the referendum that Australia did not need to have.” Dutton criticised the process for not aiming to unite Australians and accused Prime Minister Albanese of not being well-informed about the details of the proposal, as well as avoiding reasonable questions from the public.

In response, Prime Minister Albanese criticised the conservative Liberal coalition for not endorsing the Voice proposal. He emphasised that no referendum has passed historically in Australia without bipartisan support. The premier noted that the lack of unity within the political landscape led to the referendum’s ultimate defeat.

Over 17 million Australians were enrolled for the compulsory vote. In the weeks leading up to the poll, expatriates took the effort to visit embassies around the world. The vote took place 235 years after British settlement, 61 years after Aboriginal Australians were granted the right to vote, and 15 years after a prime ministerial apology for the harm caused by government policies, which included the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families.

The referendum was a promise that the Labor Party made during the federal election in 2022.