CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Indigenous campaigners who wanted Australia to create an advisory body representing its most disadvantaged ethnic minority have said its rejection in a constitutional referendum was a “shameful act.”
Many proponents of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament maintained a week of silence and flew Aboriginal flags at half-staff across Australia after the Oct. 14 vote deciding against enshrining such a representative committee in the constitution.
In an open letter to federal lawmakers, dated Sunday and seen by The Associated Press on Monday, “yes” campaigners said the result was “so appalling and mean-spirited as to be utterly unbelievable.”
“The truth is that the majority of Australians have committed a shameful act whether knowingly or not and there is nothing positive to be interpreted from it,” the letter said.
The letter said it was written by Indigenous leaders, community members and organizations but is not signed.
Indigenous leader Sean Gordon said on Monday he was one of the many people who had drafted the letter and had decided against adding their signatures.
“It was a statement that could allow Indigenous people across the country and non-Indigenous people across the country to commit to it and so signing it by individuals or organizations really wasn’t the approach that we took,” Gordon told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles, who heads the government while Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is in the United States, said he accepted the public’s verdict on the Voice.
“The Australian people always get the answer right and the government absolutely accepts the result of the referendum, so we will not be moving forward with constitutional recognition,” Marles told reporters.
The letter writers blamed the result partly on the main opposition parties endorsing a “no” vote.
The writers accused the conversative Liberal Party and Nationals party of choosing to impose “wanton political damage” on the center-left Labor Party government instead of supporting disadvantaged Indigenous people.
No referendum has ever passed in Australia without the bipartisan support of the major parties.
Senior Liberal senator Michaelia Cash said voters had rejected Albanese’s Voice model.
“Australians on referendum day, they did not vote ‘no’ to uniting Indigenous people, they did not vote ‘no’ to better outcomes for our most disadvantaged. What Australians voted ‘no’ to was Mr. Albanese,” Cash said.
The Indigenous writers said social media and mainstream media had “unleashed a tsunami of racism against our people” during the referendum campaign.
The referendum was defeated with 61% of Australians voting “no.”