The Voice Referendum – As The Dust Settles
by Tim Ellis | 21 Oct 2023

The Voice Referendum – As The Dust Settles 

Because The Voice referendum was politicised, it was always going to be polarizing. The proposal was also destined to fail from the moment that it was politicised, because Australians generally don’t trust politicians.

To emphasise this, I would point to Marion Scrymgour, who is a Northern Territory Labor MP for the seat of Lingiari. Despite being indigenous herself, her seat returned a 55.8% ‘No’ vote. (Ref 1)

Are There Any Racists Here Today?


It is almost amusing that both sides of the fence played the race card.

“If you don’t vote ‘Yes,’ it’s because you’re racist.”

“If you vote ‘Yes,’ you are voting for racism.”


I spoke to a ‘Yes’ voter on the day of the vote and one concern she had was that if the ‘No’ vote won the day, Australia would be perceived as a racist country by the rest of the world.

So where does that leave our indigenous citizens, then? Cherbourg, in the electorate of Wide Bay, where 99.98% of the population are indigenous, returned a 59% ‘Yes’ vote. This means, obviously, that 41% voted ‘No.’ (Ref 2) So using the earlier logic, this means that pretty close to 41% of indigenous people in Cherbourg are racist. Against Aboriginals.

Well, maybe they are racist. Or maybe they voted ‘No’ because they didn’t feel that The Voice was going to benefit them. Maybe it wasn’t the right way forward. Maybe they even felt that The Voice wasn’t going to benefit Australia as a nation.

The Voice Caused Tears

There was a lot of emotion around the vote and understandably so. As it became apparent that the ‘Yes’ vote would not get up, the tears started.


I have some compassion for those thus moved.

Firstly, I’m sure many people really thought this was the right thing to do for Australia’s indigenous people. Secondly, a lot of people put a lot of time, effort and emotional energy into the campaign. When one is fully invested in a process leading to a desired outcome, it can be desperately disappointing when that doesn’t come to fruition. Just ask Brisbane (Lions or Broncos), Manchester United or the Philadelphia Eagles.

Again, because it was politicised, there has been sniping from both sides of the divide since the referendum. Even leading up to it, actually. They’re all cheap shots, really.

Why Were We Not Given Details Of The Voice?

The assistant Indigenous Australians Minister, Malarndirri McCarthy, said on ABC radio, “It’s not right as a First Nations person to have to keep explaining why our history is important in this country … but we have to obviously keep doing that now because Australians voted ‘No’.” (Ref 3)

That argument holds no water. It assumes that ‘No’ voters don’t have any respect for indigenous history. Speaking for myself, I think culture and history is important and I readily acknowledge that the Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islanders were the inhabitants of Terra Australis Nondum Cognita.


Malarndirri McCarthy

Rather than making that false assumption, she might do better to sit down with her party colleagues and get an explanation as to why the details of The Voice were never explained to Australians. To make something as momentous as a change to the country’s constitution without having had the details explained would have been reckless. I’m surprised the Yes campaign garnered as many ‘Yes’ votes as it did. I can only assume many of those people were voting with their hearts and not their heads.

The Voice Referendum Was A Shameful Waste Of Money.

The government budgeted $364 million to deliver the referendum. They then did two things to virtually ensure the proposal wouldn’t be accepted: They didn’t provide details of how The Voice would work, and they politicised it.

The AEC estimate the cost will be about $450 million. If the AEC are correct, that’s an $85 million hole in the budget, which wasn’t balanced in the first place. And how do you reconcile those two figures? Again, if the AEC is correct, the government under-estimated the cost by some 25%. Jim Chalmers is supposed to be running treasury. How does he explain this massive difference?

Even if the AEC are wrong and the government is right, still…$364 million.

Added to the prescribed costs, MPs on both sides have spent undisclosed sums on taxpayer funded expenses to support their respective campaigns. On top of this, there is the $100 million sunk into the Yes campaign, plus whatever the No campaign cost. The man in the street, somewhere down the line, will be paying for a lot of that.

I’m just glad that $100 million couldn’t buy a result.

The opposition leader has called for an audit into indigenous spending programs and a royal commission into abuse of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. To me, they both smack of opportunism, although I think the audit is a good idea – as long as changes will be made as a result. It’s pretty obvious that billions is not being directed where it should be. Heads should roll.

The sky hasn’t fallen. Nor has the opportunity been lost

The PM said ahead of the referendum that a ‘No’ vote would be disastrous for Australia. He wasn’t making a statement from the heart. It was from somewhere lower on the body. To anyone with more brain cells than a mule, that was clearly hyperbole.

Or, as I prefer to say, a load of utter drivel.

We are in exactly the same position as we were before the vote. The sky hasn’t fallen. Nor has the opportunity been lost. There is more awareness around indigenous affairs than there has been for a long time. A 40% ‘Yes’ vote indicates that there is also a lot of goodwill floating around. The PM should take advantage of that.


Giving The People The Voice They Want

Dovetailing with Peter Dutton’s call for an audit, we should be putting the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) under the microscope. The NIAA was formed in May of 2019 – more than 4 years ago. As outlined in the previous article on the referendum, the agency’s vision is that Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islanders are heard, recognised and empowered. The agency’s purpose is to lead and influence change across government to ensure that Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islanders have a say in the decisions that affect them. (Ref 4)

In a nutshell, everything The Voice was supposed to accomplish.

Is NIAA Working?

Is NIAA working? If so, could it work better? What is the criteria used to decide whether it is working or not, or in which areas it is performing well and in which areas it is deficient. If it’s not working, why not and what needs to change in order to attain a better outcome?


Marcia Langton

If it’s not working, it’s not because of lack of resources. It is well resourced. It has the mandate. The structure is in place to give The Voice activists what they claim they want. This is where they should now focus their attention, rather than bemoaning the referendum outcome. At least one wouldn’t have been happy either way.

Aboriginal Marcia Langton wrote in The Saturday Paper that “Whatever the outcome, reconciliation is dead.” (Ref 5) This is an intelligent, educated person who, hopefully, has simply temporarily exhausted her mental and emotional energy. It is understandable if an individual gives up hope, or gives in to hate. But it is not alright for the nation to accept this declaration of hers if she makes it on behalf of indigenous Australians.

The Voice Referendum – Use The Momentum

As with every other Australian citizen, these activists have a voice through their local MP. Campaign to them. They are there to represent us. Hold them accountable. Don’t let the dust settle.

Constitutional reform is not going to happen. At least, not in the near term. Neither is structural reform. But it doesn’t need to.

Now is the time for a bipartisan effort to pick up the ball and run with it. All it takes is will. What is the nature of our politicians? Could they possibly surprise us and be chameleons? Or are they the leopards they have always been?


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