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Australian Voice referendum defeated

SYDNEY – Australians have voted overwhelmingly against including First Nations people in the country’s constitution, rejecting a proposal to set up an Indigenous advisory body to Parliament.

The “no” campaign remained well ahead as counting of ballots continued, with about 59% support against 41% for the “yes” side. Australian Broadcasting Corp projected on Saturday that the referendum was headed for a clear defeat.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he respected the will of the Australian people and sought to cast an optimistic vision ahead.

“It’s now up to all of us to come together and find a different way to the same reconciled destination,” he said.

“The historic fact that Australia’s story is 65,000 years old remains a source of national pride,” he said. “From tomorrow, we will continue to write the next chapter in that great Australian story, and we will write it together. And reconciliation must be a part of that chapter.”

In addition to a national majority, changes to Australia’s constitution also require the support of at least four of the country’s six states — a so-called double-majority. As of Saturday night, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia were all projected to have voted against the Voice to Parliament.

Counting is still going on in Western Australia, with the “no” vote well ahead there too.

The result will be a setback to reconciliation efforts with Indigenous Australians and a political blow to the centre-left Labor government that has been in office less than 18 months.

Albanese had hoped the ballot would bring Australians together in a moment of unity, instead it has exposed division and raised allegations of racism.

Albanese had initiated the referendum to give greater representation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islandersunder a proposal put forward by Indigenous elders in 2017.

But polls ahead of the vote had shown widespread opposition to the Voice to Parliament, with Australians concerned it would divide the country by race and many left unclear on how the body would operate.

“It’s not the Australian people’s fault,” Thomas Mayo, a spokesperson for the Yes campaign, said in an interview on ABC television. “It’s the people that have lied to us, to the Australian people, they are the ones that we should be blaming.”

The referendum’s failure will damage Albanese politically and hurt him personally, with the prime minister having regularly shown emotion while campaigning for the amendment.

“This is the referendum that Australia did not need to have,” opposition centre-right Liberal leader Peter Dutton said. “What we’ve seen tonight is Australians literally in their millions reject the prime minister’s divisive referendum.”

The result adds to the long history of failed referendums in Australia since Federation in 1901, with just eight of now 45 efforts having succeeded.

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