Aboriginal flags lowered as hopes for The Voice are silenced

Posted on 16 Oct 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

The establishment of a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution was a key pillar of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Australia’s most vocal supporters of a First Nations Voice to Parliament will remain silent for a week to grieve the failure of the referendum to support a change to the constitution.

Many First Nations advocates have also lowered their flags to half-mast to mark their sorrow at the result.

The charity and not-for-profit sector has respected the wishes of First Nations peoples who supported the Yes campaign and remained silent or offered a muted response to the referendum’s rejection by a majority of Australian voters.

More than 60% of Australians voted No compared to just under 40% Yes when asked to support enshrining an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the constitution.

Every state in the nation rejected the referendum, proposal, with the ACT was the only jurisdiction to cast a majority Yes vote.

An overwhelming majority of charity and NFP sector organisations including the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, The Smith Family, Oxfam Australia, and Diversity Council Australia, advocated for a Yes result in Saturday’s referendum.

Many, including Our Community, joined Allies for Uluru, a coalition of 275 community, non-government and corporate organisations from across the country, who came together to support the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie, said CCA was very disappointed with the Referendum result and felt sympathy for First Nations Peoples, many of whom invested a great deal in the Uluru Statement process and the development of the proposed Voice.

Charities such as the Alannah & Madeline Foundation proactively campaigned on social media for a Yes result in the Voice referendum.

"We join them in mourning the lost opportunity to walk more closely together to a more just and fairer Australia," said Mr Crosbie.

"We will continue to listen, and work with Indigenous communities in our shared commitment to addressing discrimination and disadvantage, while recognising the special place of Indigenous people as the traditional owners of our lands, and our precious connection to the ancient heartbeat of our nation.

"The challenge for all charities and NFPs is to work harder to create the kind of Australia we want to live in."

Devastated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders who supported the Yes campaign issued a statement in which they asked for a week of silence so that First Nations peoples could grieve and process the ramifications of the referendum defeat.

Those for purpose organisations supporting a Yes vote were as one in their expression of disappointment, sorrow and lost opportunities. Several declared this would their only statement, as they respected the week of silence.

"The referendum result is deeply disappointing to all who supported the Yes case."
Philanthropy Australia CEO, Jack Heath.

Philanthropy Australia CEO, Jack Heath

"The referendum result is deeply disappointing to all who supported the Yes case.

Philanthropy Australia CEO Jack Heath.

"How must it be for First Nations peoples, especially those who issued the profoundly generous invitation in the Uluru Statement from the Heart?

"More than ever before, philanthropy needs to work collaboratively with First Nations peoples and their communities.

"We need to shift power, mobilise resources, improve granting practices, and do all we can to unite the Australian people in a movement towards a better future.

"Until then, the national project remains unfinished, and our soul torn."

Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS)

"We acknowledge the deep sorrow and grief felt by many First Nations peoples today – so many who have worked so hard and with such grace.

"The leadership from First Nations communities in this referendum has been nothing short of remarkable.

"We send our sincere gratitude for their generosity in inviting us to come along on this journey with them and we recommit to supporting them in their fight for justice, sovereignty, and self-determination.

"We won’t be making any further comment at this time out of respect for the week of silence called by First Nations Australians who supported the Voice referendum, while the community grieves and processes."

Mission Australia

"#VoiceToParliament #Referendum23 was an historic moment and opportunity to reimagine our nation and our future.

"Despite the outcome, Mission Australia continues to be a strong and unwavering advocate for reconciliation and self-determination.

"We won’t make any further statements and will seek to engage with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends, colleagues, leaders, and partners agencies and take a lead from them on how we continue the reconciliation journey."

Settlement Services International

"First Nations communities have shown huge strength, grace, and generosity through the journey towards the referendum on the Voice to Parliament.

"We acknowledge this is a time of great sorrow for many First Nations peoples, and we will be showing our solidarity by not making any further comment during the week of silence called for by First Nations Australians who supported the Voice referendum, while the community grieves and processes."

Diversity Council Australia

"DCA acknowledged the outcome of the Voice referendum with enormous disappointment.

"While the result is not what we had hoped for, this is a time to hold space. We would like to express our ongoing solidarity with First Nations Australians.

"Please be mindful that the First Nations Australians who campaigned for the Voice to Parliament have called for a week of silence across the country to grieve and reflect.

"Australia has missed the opportunity to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in our constitution, a move that would have been a positive step toward Reconciliation by allowing First Nations peoples to have a say in policies that affect them.

DCA logo

"Let us use this moment as a catalyst for even more determined efforts towards unity, understanding and recognition of First Nations voices – in the first instance by being mindful of and sensitive to the cultural load our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues and networks will be carrying.

"For now, we would like to remind you to take these next few days to reflect, listen, and provide space for people to process this outcome. Many will be hurting and grieving in the aftermath of this decision.

"Above all, we need to acknowledge the increased cultural load and identity strain First Nations people have carried during this time and offer appropriate supports.

"People will react in different ways – some may need to debrief while others may prefer not to talk about it at all. Be sensitive to each individual’s needs, take the time to listen to and support one another, but also respect people’s choices if they prefer not to discuss, or need space.

"Workplaces must encourage supportive and respectful behaviour during this time, now more than ever."

Save the Children

"The referendum is over, Australia has spoken.

"We acknowledge this is a time of grief and sorrow for many, and a moment for reflection for all of us.

Save the Children logo

"At Save the Children and 54 reasons, we are united by the vision of a future where all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are empowered to reach their full potential.

We will continue to walk alongside First Nations children, young people and their families, and to actively seek and listen to their voices on the issues that matter to them, in all of the places we work."

The Salvation Army

"The referendum result does not dissolve The Salvation Army's commitment to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

"We remain committed to reconciliation, unity and equity. We will continue to advocate, support and work to make a real difference in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. First Nations people are over-represented in almost every service The Salvation Army operates and much of this is due to structural and entrenched injustice.

Salvation Army logo

"We understand this is a very difficult time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including our valued staff. The Salvation Army is committed to living a Yes future, despite this result.

"We stand with you - and we will not stop walking alongside you to achieve positive change and outcomes."

More news

Become a member of ICDA – it's free!