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The Yes vote lost: the Prime Minister is to blame

By Peter Bowden - posted Wednesday, 25 October 2023

The referendum on incorporating an aboriginal voice in the Constitution of Australia was rejected. The no vote rejected the proposition on a substantial count. What were the reasons?

The international press has condemned the result. 'Lies fuel racism': is how the global media covered Australia's Voice to Parliament referendum. Even the straightforward Associated Press declared the rejection of the Voice as a "major setback to the country's efforts for reconciliation with its First Peoples". Similarly, Reuters reported on fears the result "could set back reconciliation efforts by years".

Is Australia racist? The answer is no. This writer believes that the Prime Minister is to blame.


During the run up prior to the referendum many voters stated that they did not have enough information on which to make a decision. I agreed with that opinion, then. I am now sure that the Prime Minister is the principal reason why the referendum lost. His reason was possibly to overcome the many disabilities faced by Australia's first peoples, but he did not provide enough reason to support this objective.

In admitting defeat after the referendum, the Prime Minister said:

"I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to their elders past and present. And on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit to the Uluru statement from the heart in full''. He then went on to state that he would continue to work towards ameliorating the disadvantages suffered by the Nation's first peoples. He should have stated that prior to the referendum.

Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney urged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people not to be defeated by the result.

"I know the last few months have been rough,'' she said.

"Be proud of the 65,000 years of history and culture. We will carry on and we'll move forward. This is not the end of reconciliation."


Ms Burney said in the months ahead the Albanese Government would have more to say about new commitments.

"Because we all agree we need better outcomes for First Nations people."

Nationals leader David Littleproud, accusing the Prime Minister of "hubris", noting the recriminations had started before the polls closed at 6pm AEST and declared the PM would be to blame if the referendum failed. He was right. His rural seat of Maranoa, which extends from Warwick, Dalby and Kingaroy to the Northern Territory border, saw a whopping 84 per cent of people vote No.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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