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In the aftermath of the referendum: grief, silence and some home truths

Amid grief, disappointment, hurt and anger, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations are observing a week of silence in the wake of the devastating referendum result.

Others are speaking out to urge ongoing momentum for justice for First Nations peoples’ rights, and to call for action against racism, misinformation and disinformation, and to safeguard wellbeing, in particular of children and young people.

Below we compile statements from various organisations and also a selection of tweets and recommended reading.

Not surprisingly, much analysis is focused on the role of traditional and social media in amplifying and lending weight to racism, misinformation and disinformation.

Many are calling for truth telling about the impacts of colonisation to be prioritised going forward – the referendum outcome being a reminder of how colonisation makes First Nations people unsafe in their own country – and for mobilisation against Trumpian-style politics and campaigning.

As vote counting continues, it is clear that many remote Indigenous communities were strongly supportive of a Yes vote – the very communities who potentially had most to gain from a mechanism to improve the responsiveness of policymakers, service providers and government to their needs.


A week of silence for the Voice

A statement from Indigenous Australians who supported the Voice referendum

Recognition in the Constitution of the descendants of the original and continuing owners of Australia would have been a great advance for Australians. Alas, the majority have rejected it.

This is a bitter irony. That people who have only been on this continent for 235 years would refuse to recognise those whose home this land has been for 60,000 and more years is beyond reason.

It was never in the gift of these newcomers to refuse recognition to the true owners of Australia. The referendum was a chance for newcomers to show a long-refused grace and gratitude and to acknowledge that the brutal dispossession of our people underwrote their every advantage in this country.

For more than six years, we have explained to our nation why the Voice was our great hope to achieve real change for our families and communities.

To the Australians who supported us in this vote – we thank you sincerely. You comprise many millions of Australians of love and goodwill. We know you wanted a better future for Australia, and to put the colonial past behind us by choosing belated recognition and justice.

We thank the Prime Minister and his government for having the conviction to take this referendum to the Australian people at our request. We thank him for his advocacy and all parliamentarians who did the same, including members of the Teals, Greens, Nationals and independents who stood by us. We pay particular respect to the Liberal parliamentarians who bravely advocated for the Voice.

We also thank our fellow Australians from all sectors of the community, including multicultural, faith, professional, business, creative and sporting organisations. To the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets, knocked on doors and made over a million phone calls, thank you for your love and support.

Our deep chagrin at this result does not in any way diminish our pride and gratefulness for the stand they had the moral courage to take in this cause now lost. We know we have them by our side in the ongoing cause for justice and fairness in our own land.

Now is not the time to dissect the reasons for this tragic outcome. This will be done in the weeks, years and decades to come. Now is the time for silence, to mourn and deeply consider the consequence of this outcome.

Much will be asked about the role of racism and prejudice against Indigenous people in this result. The only thing we ask is that each and every Australian who voted in this election reflect hard on this question.

To our people we say: do not shed tears. This rejection was never for others to issue.

The truth is that rejection was always ours to determine. The truth is that we offered this recognition and it has been refused. We now know where we stand in this our own country.

Always was. Always will be.

We will not rest long. Pack up the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Fly our flags low.

Talk not of recognition and reconciliation. Only of justice and the rights of our people in our own country. Things that no one else can gift us, but to which we are entitled by fact that this is the country of our birth and inheritance.

Regather our strength and resolve, and when we determine a new direction for justice and our rights, let us once again unite. Let us convene in due course to carefully consider our path forward.

We are calling A Week of Silence from tonight (Saturday 14th October) to grieve this outcome and reflect on its meaning and significance. We will not be commenting further on the result at this time.

We will be lowering our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags to half-mast for the week of silence to acknowledge this result.

We ask others to do the same.


Time for some truth telling

Statement by SNAICC

The result on the Voice from the weekend is not what we worked and hoped for. But this referendum result is not failure, and it does not define us. At SNAICC we will continue to stand up and work for better outcomes for our children.

We respect the stance of the organisations and individuals who have chosen to ‘go dark’ this week. At this time SNAICC has made the decision to not stay silent.

We need to take particular care of our young ones. We know these events can be damaging so we urge everyone to be aware of the comments they make and how they impact children.

The Uluṟu statement calls for Voice, Treaty and Truth.

It’s now time for some truth telling. This means looking at who we were as a country, the impacts of that on who we are, but most importantly how we go forward to be the country we want to be. A place that values and has pride in being home to the oldest living culture on the planet.

We also know Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have the solutions to the issues we face.

We know that education is key to turning around outcomes and that starts with our babies and making sure families have the support they need, delivered by community services they trust.

Another Royal Commission is not a solution. There have been more than 22 reports into allegations of abuse and neglect in our communities since the Bringing them Home report in 1997.

A National Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that has legislated power to investigate any alleged wrongdoing or breaches of a child’s rights is a solution we have been putting forward for many years, and that Government can implement immediately.

History shows the greatest victories can come from a defeat. Thank you to those many, many people who supported Yes.

Our journey will continue, but on a different path.


Always was, always will be

Statement by Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA)

AIDA proudly announced publicly our support for a Voice to Parliament. We are very disappointed with the result of the referendum, and would like to thank those of you who supported us during our Yes campaign.

AIDA is here to support and advocate for all our members, and we will continue to work and strive towards the creation of an equitable and culturally safe healthcare system for First Nations peoples.

For anyone needing support you can find resources here.

AIDA is joining the week of silence across the country to grieve and reflect on the outcome of the referendum.

We will take this time to map our way forward, regather energy, reconnect to our purpose and continue to engage in our important work.

While cutting out all external noise – we are here for you, our members, so please do not hesitate to get in touch with us via membership@aida.org.au

Please stay well and look after yourselves and one another.

Always was, always will be.


Golden opportunity lost

Statement by VACCHO

“We are resilient people, and we will not take a backward step.”

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) is deeply disappointed by the outcome of the Voice to Parliament Referendum, which has seen one of the world’s most prosperous nations fail to seize upon a historic opportunity to make meaningful change for a better future for all Australians.

This was a seminal moment in terms of Australia’s maturity as a nation. VACCHO believes that this was a missed chance for Australia and will have a detrimental impact on the country’s international standing.

VACCHO pays tribute to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, health leaders, Community leaders, volunteers, and hundreds of thousands of everyday Australians who have been unwavering in their commitment, dedication, and support of a ‘Yes’ vote.

VACCHO is calling on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities across Victoria to look out for one another’s health and wellbeing following a highly divisive leadup that has been rife with the spread mis and disinformation and vile racism.

Whilst this is a sad day for this country, this outcome will only further strengthen VACCHO’s resolve to be a staunch advocate and leading voice for change that supports thriving, healthy Aboriginal Communities.

VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher is disappointed by the outcome of the referendum, but says Aboriginal Communities have the resilience, determination, and fearlessness to continue to push forward.

“I’m mindful of the potential impacts this referendum result will have on the health and wellbeing of Communities across the state. We need to wrap our arms around one another and support each other during these challenging and complex times.”

“I encourage people to talk to their families, talk to their friends, and know that there are staunch Aboriginal organisations, leaders, and Elders, who are there for you.”

“Australia has failed to seize a golden opportunity to elevate the status and visibility of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. However, I am heartened by the support the “Yes” vote received in Victoria.”

“I’d like to pay tribute to the Aboriginal leaders who showed fearless leadership throughout a gruelling campaign.”

“We are a strong, resilient Community and we will not falter. VACCHO will continue to fight tooth and nail for recognition and to rectify the appalling failures in the justice, health, and government systems that contribute to a horrific life expectancy and health gap for our people.”

NOTE: Your social and emotional safety is important. If this has brought up any concerns or issues for you, please have a yarn with Yarnin Safe’n’Strong (1800 959 563) or 13YARN (13 32 16).


The work continues

Statement by Indigenous Rights Team Amnesty International (edited)

We come to you with heavy hearts. The result of the Voice referendum has left us devastated. We wanted to reach out to you, our valued human rights supporters, to express our profound disappointment but mostly to reinforce our unwavering commitment to First Nations justice.

The outcome of the referendum is not what we had hoped for and worked so tirelessly towards. Right now, we’re contending with the nation’s rejection of the generous, unifying invitation from First Nations communities across Australia for a brighter future for this county.

We share in the deep discouragement that you may be feeling. The road ahead seems challenging, but please know that we are not giving up. Together, we will persevere in the face of adversity – towards a more equal and just country.

We want to express our continued solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, leaders, and communities who have been at the forefront of this plight for generations. Their dedication and unwavering commitment to ensure their rights and that of their community are upheld is an inspiration to us all. We stand with them, shoulder to shoulder, and we will support them in their ongoing fight for justice.

This result is a stark reminder that our work is far from over, and we must continue our efforts to educate, engage, and build consensus within our society. Even when faced with such results, we remain steadfast in our resolve to promote human rights for all.

Kacey Teerman, Rodney Dillon and Rach McPhail, Indigenous Rights team


Next steps

Statement by Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch supported the Voice as an important way to ensure self-determination for First Nations people in Australia.

While the results are disappointing for many First Nations people in Australia, the “no vote” does not diminish their rights as Indigenous people, which the Australian government has a continued responsibility to uphold.

In deciding next steps, the Australian Government should prioritise the views of Indigenous communities.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was endorsed by Australia in 2009, recognises that Indigenous people have the right to participate in decision-making in matters that would affect their rights, and that governments should consult with Indigenous people before making laws that affect them.

It is a blight on Australia’s history that successive governments of various political persuasions have failed to uphold the rights of First  Nations people.


Sad and disappointing result

Statement by Australian Health Promotion Association

The Australian Health Promotion Association stands in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and continue to provide our support for constitutional recognition of First Nations people in Australia.
The outcome of the referendum is a sad and disappointing result for recognition and equity and in realising the aspirations of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

We acknowledge the ongoing advocacy efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their calls for justice and self-determination and we recognise the toll this takes on individuals and communities. This is a difficult and distressing time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and allies, many of whom are members, colleagues, and the communities we work with and are part of.

We encourage space and time for reflection and healing and will actively seek opportunities to support this. As the next steps are taken, we will listen, learn, and walk alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members, colleagues, and communities.

AHPA remains committed to supporting practice, policy and research that centres the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at its heart. We will continue to strive for a healthier, equitable Australia.

Please reach out to the below services if you need support:
13 Yarn (13 92 76)
Lifeline (13 11 14)


Truth telling needed

Statement by South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI)

SAHMRI’s leadership, including our Indigenous Collective, is disappointed that our nation has rejected an opportunity to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution while including provision for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

The No result demonstrates the need for further truth-telling among us Australians, to acknowledge and understand our shared history and address the ongoing impacts of colonisation among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. While the referendum didn’t deliver the outcome many of our community hoped for, we should be encouraged that a large proportion of the Australian population agreed with the Voice proposal.

SAHMRI has always valued involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in decisions that affect their health and wellbeing as imperative to closing the gap in health and social outcomes. That is the very essence of the SA Aboriginal Health Research Accord which guides our Aboriginal health activities. We have seen the positive outcomes this delivers.

SAHMRI will continue to do research and translation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to address topics of importance to them. We acknowledge our ability to achieve positive outcomes is realised through our relationships with our diverse partners. We look forward to continuing and strengthening our work together to accelerate improved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


Deep regret at lost opportunity

Statement by ANMF

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has expressed its deep disappointment at the Voice referendum result.

The ANMF was strongly in favour of a Voice to Parliament as a genuine pathway to Closing the Gap and to finally finding meaningful strategies for improving health outcomes for First Nations peoples and communities.

Today, firstly and most importantly, we want to acknowledge First Nations activists, peoples and communities, who have fought for change for so long and who led this campaign with such strength and commitment, and whose resolve, despite the result, has started a conversation that will lead to a better future for Australia.

While we respect the referendum’s decision and acknowledge that many of those who voted no also want to find meaningful strategies to improve health outcomes for First Nations peoples, the ANMF expresses its deep regret at this lost opportunity. We know, however, that this is not the end – there are many pathways to improving health outcomes for First Nations peoples and to First Nations justice.

We stand in solidarity with First Nations communities on this day and assure you that we will never give up. The ANMF will continue to listen and to work with First Nations peoples to achieve better outcomes and a better, fairer, just futurE


Do better

Statement by AMA

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must have a say in the policies that shape their health outcomes, regardless of the Voice to Parliament referendum result.

Australian Medical Association President Professor Steve Robson said it was crucial for Australia to move forward sensitively following the referendum’s ‘No’ outcome.

“We have seen, at times, difficult debate during the Voice to Parliament campaign, which will have had a significant impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Professor Robson said.

“We need to be conscious of that as we talk about how to move forward and genuinely tackle the worrying disparity in health outcomes among First Nations communities.”

Professor Robson said the AMA supported establishing a Voice as a way of helping address this gap.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a life expectancy that is on average 8.2 years shorter than other Australians. This is unacceptable,” Professor Robson said.

“Despite the referendum result, we all know we must listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples if we are to develop programs and policies that truly address the gap in health outcomes.

“Governments need to do better at consulting Indigenous communities and ensuring their views are adequately built into policies that affect them.”

Professor Robson said it was incumbent on governments around Australia to genuinely act on the input received from Indigenous communities, such as the need to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

“Governments had collectively supported the Voice but we know most states and territories are still yet to act on recommendations to raise the age. This is despite the extremely clear evidence — directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples — that the current minimum age of 10 has a profoundly negative impact on them.”

The AMA has a long history of strong advocacy in support of policies aiming to deliver better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and will continue to do so despite the referendum outcome.

In partnership with the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, the AMA’s Taskforce on Indigenous Health has a strong and focused agenda, including advocating on the importance of access to culturally safe health care, and addressing the determinants of health in a thoughtful and respectful way.


Enormous setback

Statement by Burnet Institute

Burnet would like to express our disappointment at the outcome of Saturday’s referendum regarding enshrining a Voice to Parliament in Australia’s Constitution for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

We are committed to advocating for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and will continue to support them through our work. We will continue to strengthen our capacity for research to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

We will continue to listen to, and work with, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to hear about their needs and work together to achieve better health outcomes.

Burnet Institute Chair, Mary Padbury, said she hoped other actions could still be taken to facilitate this, despite the referendum outcome.

“The result of Saturday’s referendum is disappointing. Burnet stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends at this time,” she said.

“We need to work together to find a way forward and to ensure positive steps can still be taken to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have been disadvantaged for too long.”

Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb said alternative action was needed to reduce the enormous gap in health and life outcomes faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, after the result of the referendum.

“My first thoughts are with the communities that will feel devastated today, scars that are unlikely to heal any time soon. We stand in solidarity with a community of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are disappointed at the rejection of their modest ask,” Professor Crabb said.

“The proposal in the referendum was not imposed; it was what the majority of First Nations’ People considered deeply important and ultimately asked for. It is an enormous setback for Indigenous communities and for the country.

“What comes next must reflect the wishes of those same communities. We stand with First Nations People in that effort.”

“This is a time of mourning for many and we recognise and respect the wishes of the Yes campaigners for a week of silence.”


Self-determination matters

Statement by Beyond Blue Chair Julia Gillard and Board directors 

Beyond Blue Chair The Hon Julia Gillard AC, and Beyond Blue Directors Professor Helen Milroy AM and The Hon Ken Wyatt AM, today issued the following statement on the outcome of the Voice to Parliament referendum.

This is a moment of reflection for Australia. While the referendum result is not the one Beyond Blue had hoped for, we remain hopeful that all Australians want to heal divisions and create a better future together.

First Nations peoples are nearly three times more likely to be psychologically distressed than other Australians, and twice as likely to die by suicide.

Racism and exclusion harm mental health and wellbeing. As the national depression and anxiety initiative, Beyond Blue is guided by evidence.

For First Nations peoples, the research clearly shows that social and emotional wellbeing is strengthened when self-determination is at the heart of decision-making.

That’s why we supported the Voice and believe a First Nations community-led approach to mental health will lead to better outcomes.

We still believe Australians want a just and compassionate country. We may have different experiences, cultures and views, but fairness and respect are values that will always unite us.

We believe Australians would agree that the gap in mental health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is not acceptable.

The referendum result will be distressing, particularly for many First Nations peoples. We want to reassure everyone that Beyond Blue is available with free, immediate mental health advice and support for everyone.

However you voted, whatever your views, Beyond Blue is here for you. Crisis support from First Nations counsellors is available from 13 YARN.

As we emerge from this chapter in our nation’s story, we must maintain hope that a better future is possible. That this was not our only chance at healing.

Beyond Blue will not waiver in our advocacy and support for better mental health for First Nations peoples, standing proudly as allies in the ongoing pursuit of equality, inclusion and reconciliation.

We remain committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and open to its generous and dignified invitation to walk with First Nations peoples towards a better future and a more unified country. We hope you do too.

The Hon Julia Gillard AC, Professor Helen Milroy AM and The Hon Ken Wyatt AM, on behalf of Beyond Blue


Recommended reading

Dr Louis Peachey, who had previously expressed his strong support for a Yes vote, says he is struggling with the fact that he now will treat and look after those who do not want to listen to his people. He is a Djirribaligan Girrimay man from the Djirribaligan language group, which is the rainforest country of far north Queensland, where 78 percent of the people in the electorate where he lives voted No.

“I will go into work and I will work very hard to improve and save the lives of people who have disregard for my people, for people who are indifferent to what happens to my people,” he said in this ABC interview.

Read: ‘We thought Australia can’t be this bad’: Elders grieve Voice referendum result

Read: With the defeat of the Voice referendum, it’s the beginning of the end of a bruising era in black politicsRead: Yes or No, we are still here and we are still Black and deadlyRead: Torres Strait Islanders vow to keep striving for greater autonomy after Voice defeatRead: ‘Maybe I don’t have as many friends as I thought’: being Indigenous amid 85% no votersRead: How did the media perform on the Voice referendum? Let’s talk about truth-telling and impartiality

Dr Denis Muller writes: “...Balance is not about giving equal time, space or prominence to each or every side of a story. Balance follows the weight of evidence. In the context of the referendum, it is false balance to give equal weight to the claim that the proposed Constitutional amendment would import a divisive race-based element into the Constitution, and to the constitutional lawyers’ opinion that it does no such thing.”


Read: ‘Lies fuel racism’: how the global media covered Australia’s Voice to Parliament referendum Read: The Voice campaign showed Labor’s strategy for countering right-wing populism is in disarray

Emerita Professor Carol Johnson writes: “Albanese may have believed his election victory represented a “new politics”, but in fact his government, and the broader “yes” case, have been fighting a very old politics over the Voice. The Voice referendum lost for diverse reasons, including the lack of bipartisan support and a successful fear campaign that sometimes mobilised quite horrible racism.”


Other commentary



See Croakey’s portal on the Voice, compiling articles, resources and statements