Understanding the Aussie “No” vote in the weekend referendum

Australians have just rejected a plan to divide them by race. The defeat of a referendum that would have created “an advocacy committee to offer advice to Parliament on policies (the ‘Voice’) that affect indigenous people” has split the country.

Those who see no difference between Australians, native, descended or recent arrival voted “No” to the suggestion that one “race” should be different from another. It is a simplified version of saying no to Apartheid. The YES Vote for the Voice was the lowest vote ever in an Australian referendum.

Needless to say it is seem very differently from the liberal “Yes” supporters. Voice advocates had hoped that listening to indigenous views would lead to “more effective delivery of government services and better outcomes for Indigenous lives”. It certainly riled up feelings. Angry indigenous people were seen throwing non-indigenous people walking on pathways off “their” land.

Arguments for and against enshrining the Voice

Campaigners for Yes say the case is simple: it’s about listening to Indigenous Australians when policy about them is made, and recognising them in the constitution.

But No campaigners have cast doubt over how the Voice would function. Some opponents argue it would go too far, while others say it wouldn’t go far enough.

Here are the key arguments, as put forward by each camp:


  • The Voice was recommended after a years-long engagement with Indigenous communities across Australia.
  • Indigenous people should have a say in policies that affect them.
  • If the government listens to Indigenous people as it creates policies about them, the policies will be better.
  • When governments listen to people, they use funding more effectively. So the Voice would save money.
  • The Voice would advise government on practical steps to improve Indigenous health, education, employment and housing.
  • Future governments wouldn’t be able to remove the Voice without another referendum, meaning it could offer unwelcome advice without fear of being shut down. 
  • The Voice would be gender-equal and include youth members, meaning more voices from Indigenous communities will be heard.
  • Parliament, and by extension the Australian people, would still hold the ultimate say over what becomes law.
  • It has been carefully devised and given the green light by legal experts.
  • Fixed terms mean representatives will always be accountable.
  • The Voice would be a good mechanism through which to negotiate Truth and Treaty processes with the Commonwealth. 


  • It’s symbolic, and fixing systemic issues facing Indigenous communities would require a body with actual power.
  • More bureaucracy will not help Indigenous Australians in disadvantaged communities to close the gap and achieve reconciliation.
  • Governments can ignore its advice if they don’t like what it tells them. 
  • No issue is beyond its scope. 
  • The Voice adds race to the constitution, and enshrining a body for only one group means permanently dividing Australians.
  • Australians are being asked to sign a blank cheque, given key details about how the Voice would operate will be decided after the referendum.
  • Because the Voice will be designed by parliament, future governments could change or sideline it.
  • It will be a first step to more radical changes like financial reparations for colonisation and dispossession.
  • It would be costly and bureaucratic – an additional fiscal burden on top of existing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative bodies.
  • Indigenous people already have a voice via an unprecedented level of Indigenous representation in parliament. 
  • Truth and Treaty should come before the Voice.

At the end of the day, the No vote had it. The further one went from the inner cities, the bigger the No majorities became. In fact, just about the only seats to vote Yes were those held by rich, greenie women. and the very liberal capital Canberra.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had pinned his colours to this campaign and it now remains to be seen whether he can hang on to his position. It is interesting to note that Labour in New Zealand was severely beaten in the General Election last week. After the draconian period of the pandemic lockdowns, maybe enough was enough for the easy-going Aussies and Kiwis?