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Posters promote the Yes and No votes ahead of the October 14, 2023 referendum (ABC News/Danielle Monica)

The Voice to Parliament referendum result was a disaster for the country and a tragedy for First Australians. It’s time to confront what went wrong before we all start forgetting what really went on, writes Fr Frank Brennan SJ. Source: The Australian. 

A week after the 40:60 loss, the key Indigenous leaders who had dealt with the Albanese Government during the campaign broke their silence and issued a powerful statement saying:

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are in shock and are grieving the result. We feel acutely the repudiation of our peoples and the rejection of our efforts to pursue reconciliation in good faith. 

“That people who came to our country in only the last 235 years would reject the recognition of this continent’s First Peoples – on our sacred land which we have cared for and nurtured for more than 65,000 years – is so appalling and mean-spirited as to be utterly unbelievable a week following. 

“It will remain unbelievable and appalling for decades to come.”

There has been little appetite for public discussion about lessons to be learnt from this abject failure. 

Some of the key proponents saw nothing wrong with the process and the wording of the proposed change. 

They think racism played a key part in the result. For example, the key Indigenous leaders claimed, “It is clear no reform of the Constitution that includes our peoples will ever succeed. This is the bitter lesson from 14 October.” 

If they’re right, there will be no point in attempting again constitutional recognition of First Australians.

But they may be wrong – and I hope they are. There may be a prospect of future constitutional change but not with the process that was adopted and not with the wording that was proposed in 2023. It’s time to begin the conversation about past mistakes, before we all start forgetting what went on.

These are extracts from F Frank Brennan’s Lessons from our Failure to Build a Constitutional Bridge in the 2023 Referendum (Connor Court Publishing, 2024), published this week.


Mistakes and lessons from the voice referendum (By Fr Frank Brennan SJ, The Australian)